TISM interview by Clinton Porteous in Waves magazine #81, PBS publication, 1986


Ron Hitler Barassi - vocals, Dencorub and the annexation of Poland;
Humphrey B. Flaubert - jungle drums, libido;
Eugene de la Hot-Croix Bun - synthesizer and true love;
Jock Cheese - bass and the crucifixion of innocents;
John St. Peenis - saxophone, depression and cumulus cloud activity;
Les Miserables - dance, metal work and frontal perspective;
Leak Van Vlalen - guitar and Pig God.

From 1982 onwards the still nameless This Is Serious Mum did nine home recording sessions, from Great Truckin' of the Renaissance through to The Vic Hugo Experience - Are You Miserable? from which live material is now drawn. What motivated these recordings?

RHB: That is an extremely good question, and if I was an interviewer and asked that question, I would be very proud.

Almost by accident K. K. Klein management heard some of those home recordings and persuaded the group to unleash their phenomenon on the world. Why then did TISM initially have no desire to play live, or to record, their material for public consumption?

RHB: That was no accident. Our tape was sent to Gavan Purdy of Vamp management by the Mysterious Terry Rowe who is in fact our voodoo mother. We did not want to play live because we believe in the pristine virginity of obscurity. Upon encouragement from the Mysterious Terry Rowe. We played our first concert, "The Get Fucked Concert", which was in fact also our farewell concert. Every live performance since then has been a reunion concert done purely through public demand.

HBF: It's a tragedy what happened to Brian. Slowly he became no longer the leader. I knew it would happen like this.

TISM deliberately alienate their audience. The band have created a fictitious name for each member and TISM always cover their faces with masks. Furthermore, there are no words addressed to the audience in concert, and your press releases are absurd. How did you arrive at this unknowable TISM concept?

RHB: This guy is good isn't he?
HBF: Yeah, he is good isn't he?
RHB: You're good, you know that?

Can you relate the emotions present at the first TISM gig when the band jumped out of a truck and performed to six people?

RHB: Yeah well as the truck door slid open we were vibing, the crowd were vibing. All six people of the crowd were vibing as one. All seven members of the band, they were vibing just as one. There were two people there. It was a vibe. It was good vibes. We raised the roof that day, it was an outdoor gig. It was a real vibe, everyone was vibing. The truck was vibrating.

HBF: Yeah we though we'd never play that song again after all that happened. There were those guys with the pool cues, and I looked over to the left hand side and I saw this guy standing on the stage just freaking out man. I tried to cool everybody down you know but it was just like the gig we did the other time, when I tried to let those butterflies out, and they were all dead when they were meant to fly out of the box.

TISM was able to purchase its RX-11 drum machine through winning the 1985 3RRR-FM Band competition. Aside from the originiality of the band, what other factors helped you win that competition?

RHB: This guy's not very good you know.
HBF: No, he's not very good.
RHB: You're not very good, you know that?

Through recording station jingles and several interviews TISM is percieved as having close links with 3RRR-FM. Ron, in a interview with Steven Walker, who you code named Jeremy, you said "You stand at the cutting edge of commercial radio. Try do your best Jeremy because your radio station remains in a pristine isolation." Ron what do you perceive as RRR's contribution to live music in Melbourne?

RHB: Well my mother was always very cold. She was friendly but cold. I think she was good natured and always meant the best: but in the end I'm not sure she had the emotional maturity to bring up kids. The memory I've got of my father is always a bit clouded by that Oedipal scene we had in the kitchen, which means knives always hold a special fascination for me. I have knives all over my bedroom walls. The last memory I have of my father is him stepping on to the helicopter pad, and not even waving goodbye. I haven't seen him since then, and what I know of him I read in the Financial News. So the greatest influence on my family life has been the nurse-maid Madame Moselle Travesty. She was employed to look after me, but I think she loved me really. Then I met the Mysterious Terry Rowe, and everything was alright.

Ron, you also say of public radio in that interview, "Radio to bottle your mother by, radio to make you go to the bar of the Waterside Workers Hotel, and say I'll pay one hundred dollars to the first poofter who knocks on my door". In the light of that statement how do you perceive public radio within Melbourne?

RHB: Well as a band we have an undoubted indebtedness to that sort of public radio. In fact, our reunion gigs both in Melbourne, and now Adelaide and Sydney, are made possible through the agency of these sort of radio stations. On a broader scale we are indebted to these sort of stations as symbols of the sort of sub-culture in both the musical sense and the wider social sense, that bands like us can grow up in.

The main debt we have to people from this sub-culture is our undying and unambiguous hatred for the snivelling, fashion-conscious, rich, dildos that inhibit this sort of environment. Not so much the people of RRR and PBS themselves but the sort of Haircut 100, I've got a lock of hair hanging down from my left eyeball types who dabble in drugs off their father's money, who think they stand out somehow at a cutting edge of artistic or intellectual consciousness, but are in fact no more radical than Peter Ross Edwards.

Moreover, we can specifically narrow it down to the sort of people who subscribe to these sort of radio stations; and getting more specific still to the sort of person who would buy a WAVES magazine and read it thinking that they are now in touch with musical innovation. Getting more specific still, we hate you, the reader, personally, senselessly, and unambiguously.

HBF: There was this chick, maybe Shirley was the name, I'm not sure really. She used to be around in the early days and somehow or other I think she ended up being immortalised in some kind of fiction. Auburn haired, young, and maybe it was the timing but it was kind of like a scene out of that movie BLOW OUT or was it BLOW UP, where they're playing tennis without a ball, and then the guy runs down the alley with the neck of Jeff's guitar after he'd smashed it into his Vox. Those were the good old days, but I often wonder what happened to Shirley, sad really...

On Friday 11th July your single Defecate On My Face was released to a full house at the Prince of Wales. The scenario for the gig was a football grand final. In terms of the band's development how important was that record release gig?

RHB: It was negligible. It had almost no importance in the band's history.
HBF: It was of inestimable insignificance.

That seven inch single was released in a twelve inch album cover with all four sides glued. Although there were only one thousand copies released it topped the alternative charts. Why did the band insist on a limited release?

RHB: We were instructed to do so by the Mysterious Terry Rowe of course.

Your press release says of Defecate On My Face: "Strangely enough this relates to the true nature of the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. With touching sensitivity it recounts how this couple explored their own sexuality, and then mopped up afterwards". What did TISM hope to achieve by revealing intimate details on the dictator who banned all but classical music in his realm as leader of the Third Reich?

RHB: Look we're sick of being misinterpreted.
HBF: It was an obvious veiled reference to Chiang Kai-Shek.

Art Income Dialectic, on the B side of the single, is a delightful soliloquy of yours Ron. May I ask you which Shakespearian character's soliloquy do you feel most comfortable with; that of Hamlet -

"Drown the Stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech
Make mad the guilty, and appal the free";

or that of Macbeth?

"I am in blood
steeped in so far that, should I walk no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

HBF: Who is Shakespeare? I heard that he left off playing bass with the Negativs; but I think he never made it to the Sacred Cowboys because he left with Gary Gray, but did not stay with him.

RHB: Blood haunts Macbeth. It becomes synonymous with the gradual flooding of his wife's subconscious sense, or morality, and the destruction of his own. My copy of that play is still marked by the notes I made in my HSC year. I can remember sitting at 11.30pm, when the rest of the family had gone to bed, with the lights just on enough to read and making lists of the references to blood in the play. With growing surprise, as the scent from my father's flower-beds drifted in, I realised blood was a cohesive pervasive symbol throughout the play. It was a warm night because that was only four weeks or so before the exam. I realised that Shakespeare could be read as poetry, with the compression of language that the word poetry implies, as well as a drama. In fact it was this poetic notion of Shakespeare that attracted me the most because I'm yet to see a production of his which doesn't bore the shit out of me.

HBF: He can play his instrument though, you know what I mean.

In a TISM assault on a RRR breakfast show which Ian "Molly" Meldrum hosted, Ron uttered the Shakespearian quotation:

"We come not to praise Caesar,
but to bury him."

Can you expand on the commercial symbolism of "Molly" Meldrum in relation TISM's assault on that show?

HBF: We only did it for the chicks.

In a press release the band says: "Rock is just another arm of the industrial military complex", yet also comments that members of the band "enjoy their voluminous inground pools, $45,000 per annum". In the light of these actions how long can TISM hold their public credibility?

HBF: Well I was young once, you know and I used to be very idealistic about this whole music biz thing. I used to think that it was some kind of hero thing, but it's not! It's all completely programmed and we've got nothing to do with it. We can't pick our heroes. We get what we want, and we want what we get. Maybe once every fifteen years something happens for maybe three or four months then the great big tentacles of the business world catch up with it again and process it.

Like when that sixties beat boom happened. Look at all those incredibly wimpy bands which came out of the original thrust of the Mersey beat scene and the way they completely pulverised the inital rush of rock'n'roll and turned it into those American "doo-wop" style bands. That's what's happening. That's what's still happening today. It is completely and totally controlled by people who have no interest in it. We've got no control over it what-so-ever.

RHB: I think Samantha Fox is gorgeous.

Artistic licence is used in refraining from using the word "fucking" in the recorded version of Misthar Eliot - He Wanker. Ron can you explain the rather damning title of this song?

RHB: That title was actually based on Eliot lifting the line "Mr Kurts - he dead" from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and using it at the start of one of his poems. The term "Misthar Eliot - He Wanker", especially with the spelling of "Misthar" as it is, therefore becomes a parody of that action of Eliot's, just as the film "Apocalypse Now" used that line, to some effect... it also had the very famous line that I continually dwell upon, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning, it smells like napalm in the morning".

HBF: Which actually reminds me that, the more I think about it, the more I think he was just a silly, spoilt brat. I mean, all that sort of drinking and going out and hanging out getting up and jamming with all those other bands, while he thought it was some kind of enigmatic thing to do. I really think he was just a little boy who would get his botty smacked if he was playing up. But now that he's dead, everyone has erected a monument to him... that's the way this rock business stinks! See, that's what reminded me, the movie "Apocalypse Now", it's just another opportunity to wallow in the great, enigmatic thing that is "Jimbo". But it's just another indication of the incredible dross that we have to put up with over the years.

RHB: Yeah, it's like in our song, Nick Cave and Jim Morrison Play Kick To Kick, where I say, "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with Jim Morrison joining the Public Service and doing at least one fucking day's work in his life". Why doesn't he contribute something worthwhile to this world, instead of his self-pitying, artistic wankishness? That's what I want to know.

He can rock around the world getting drunk, falling over on stage, getting his fans to think he's God, but what good does that do anyone? How many bricks has he shifted? How many bloody barrel loads of cement has he carted around the world? None! Not bloody one. My father's out there slaving all day, he's got his string line all set up, it's a hot sun or it's a cold wind biting, and he puts up houses. That's something real, that's real pain; not this bloody avant-garde, "I'm depressed with the world" sort of pain. What that just means is that Jim Morrison is dead-set rectum... That's why he's an "ar-tist".

My father's the real artist: he puts up houses! Shove it Jimbo, you fuckhead! Yeah, the bloody lizard-king - what does that mean? The lizard-bloody-king. What does he want? Did he have a pet or something? Or an L.A. Woman? That's just a fuckin' city isn't it, and he went there and rooted tarts like any other guy. There's nothing intelligent about that! There's nothing artistic or enigmatic about that! He was a fat, paunchy, drunken, yob rocker that played mediocre, talentless twelve bar songs. It's just like a fucking Chubby Checker. That's what Jim Morrison is, he's a fat Chubby Checker!

I think Mark Lee, captain of the Richmond Football Club, has more artistic enigma than fuckin' Jim Morrison. How many fucking drop punts has Jim Morrison put in during the last quarter of the match? There's no premiership quarter with Jim Morrison, he don't do no pre-season training, he just sits up on stage then fucken falls over and that's his statement against the world.

He is a deeply personal friend of mine though; and I look up to him as a colleague.

HBF: Those were heady days.

To coincide with the EP's release (F&MRUC will be released in December) you are going on a tri-state tour playing the Prince of Wales in Melbourne, and then Adelaide and Sydney. On this tour you share billing with Big Pig, yet many people would question the compatibility of Big Pig and yourself.

RHB: Don't start talking to me about Jim Morrison, pal! Jim Morrison's got right up my nose. His shit stinks, buddy. And now he's carked it, like the fat, over-grown, drug-ridden drunk he always was. He was a hooligan, he was irresponsible... he was a cunt, frankly... if I met the fucking Lizard King, I'd stomp on that fucking lizard till his gizzards came out.

Critics have often linked TISM with Freudian theories, and even the band has described itself as a "poo band". What credence does the band give to Freud's theory that defecating is the symbolic daily ritual of rebirth?

HBF: What I think of the Doors and why they've become so pre-eminent today is they have a real and valid poetic environment in which they envelop their music. The reason why The Doors stand out today as one of the premier bands of the '60s and early '70s, and why so many other bands have fallen by the wayside, probably centres around the validity of Jim Morrison's artistic persona. In many ways he is the poet of rock'n'roll. If anyone in rock'n'roll can claim to be linked with the likes of Milton, Shelley, Keats, and even possibly W. H. Auden, it's Jim Morrison. Look, for instance at his magnificent "I am the Lizard King". The feeling of dark mystery symbolises, for many teenagers, the feelings of all of us in this new existentialist universe, where we have to face up to the responsibilities of being cogent whilst faced with the terrors of the world without the traditional, moralistic and religious social certainties of the past.

That's why today, the Doors, and quite rightly so, stand as symbols of a generation that for the first time after the euphoria of "flower-power", began to realise the responsibility of their claim to be free. With freedom comes responsibility. and what The Doors were pointing out is that responsibility can be a terrifying, mysterious, and yet beautiful thing.

The (Age) Entertainment Guide is rarely kind to TISM, accusing the band of "plagiarism and polysyllabic twaddle". Moreover in looking at literary figures such as T. S. Eliot, John Keats and Franz Kafka. Although TISM broaches the topic, it seemingly fails to explore it.

RHB: I don't know what you mean by 'explore' there. Sure we make reference to a whole series of literary figures, in fact if you want to be picky about it we make references to philosophical concepts. But what do you mean 'explore' in this context? Do you mean that if we ever refer to T. S. Eliot we have to somehow make a comprehensive reference to all his work. The same with Kafka or Keats. We, like anyone else, are existing in a tradition not only of rock music but also of literary history. You might not think it is fully justified to make reference to that tradition, and to say that that is merely being one dimensional or not exploring fully those concepts I think is to totally misconstrue the main point of why they came out in our lyrics. The main point being that we are trying to make everyone else aware that we are probably far more intelligent than them.

TISM seem to have had a violent reaction against Wham! and their shirts reading Choose Life. TISM have Choose Bad Smack smocks; and the lyrics to that song include, "Choose bad smack, and don't choose life". Is this another example of TISM courageously cutting off the head of corporate rock music?

HBF: I disagree entirely with everything that Ron has just said. We love and respect our fans. We look up to them and the paltry literary references we put in our songs are merely there just to impress our fans even though we don't understand them ourselves. Basically I believe our fans are far more intelligent than we are.

RHB: I think I would agree with that.

At a TISM concert there is always something like dancing or sings being wielded on stange. Do you consciously explore territory between theatre and live music.

RHB: In that territory we are like the parking officers of rock. You park your truck there and you're sure to get a ticket.

HBF: No, actually the balaclavas are there to pull the chicks.

TISM has removed itself from its audience by being unknowable, but at the same time tries to seduce them by giving them cards bearing messages of friendship, distributing flowers and photographing your audience. Is TISM trying to reverse its role as performer and therefore trying to show the audience itself?

RHB: Hey look, we never thought of that, that's good.
HBF: Christ, that's really good.
RHB: Look, do you mind saying that we said that?

Thanks Ron and Humphrey, it's been great talking to myself about yourselves and TISM.


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