The Ballad of Phantom Billstickers (Part Two)
In Trenton, I was carrying posters by seven poets: Robert Pinsky, Joe Treceno, Marcie Sims, Jay Clarkson, Michele Leggott, Stephen Oliver and Tusiata Avia. This was to be a true urban poster run and I rode my newly purchased second-hand Schwinn pushbike which cost me $40. I was carrying the posters under my wing. I felt like Ignatius J. Reilly and my hunting cap fell down over my eyes several times. I was the thinking man’s oaf.
Trenton is the state capital of New Jersey and has one of the highest crime rates in America. It is also where George Washington gave the British a damn good dusting during the War of Revolution and sent them packing. A nation was then formed that is (I chose the present tense on purpose) dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
In Trenton there are monitoring devices in the streets which detect the sound of gunshots and can also track the direction from which those gunshots came. Say it isn’t so. This is what life has become.
There is a scourge in Trenton and its name is Heroin. The latest street brand of Smack is called “Obama’s Rescue Package” and is sold by those who want to take advantage of the dream of America. They have not joined in the spirit of the revolution. In Mexico, in less than four years, 23,000 have been killed during the “Drug War” and so it goes, (right?).
On to more pleasant subjects:
I am often asked about the old days of billsticking in New Zealand. One doesn’t want to choose favourites, but I have worked with a number of very good poster put-‘er-uppers. The name Harry Sparkle comes to mind first. Harry did the posters for the Hillsborough and Gladstone Taverns in Christchurch during the late 70s to the mid 80s when New Zealand music made all the ground it did. At the time, New Zealand music was like a religious movement and radio stations just did not play it and ‘cover bands’ pulled far more people than original music. I cannot tell you how Spandau Ballet songs made Christchurch swing and what haircuts became during this period of time. This part was appalling.
But, paradoxically, all this made original Kiwi music better as there was a point to be proven. The good bands won out. They are still heard. These bands were very prepared to be honest. At this time, going on the road was dangerous because the public bar clientele may well chase you down the main street for no reason at all and the only food on the menu for touring bands was Hawaiian Ham Steaks. Now that’s what I call dangerous. One took one’s life into one’s own hands to be playing Palmerston North during these years.
To digress, I would also want to give credit to Gerald Dwyer as a paste dude in Wellington, a giant Totara indeed. Then Lee Hubber and Johne Leach also did good work in the capital city. Doug Nuttall was invaluable in Dunedin for getting across the point of New Zealand music and John Greenfield gave his all in the garden city during the 80s and early 90s. Trevor King pasted up the streets of Christchurch in the 1950s and 1960s for Johnny Devlin and Max Merritt and so we must be thankful. You will remember that New Zealand was a closed shop during these years and the Beatles once famously said that they came to New Zealand but it was closed. Many people said this in different ways.
Harry Sparkle? Harry was a punk and during punk we all knew no limits and the walls of repression were being blasted down quicker than you could say “more government please.” Harry’s band was called “The Baby Eaters” and often crashed the stage at the Hillsborough during a touring band’s break. They cavalierly just picked up the headlining band’s instruments without permission and started playing Iggy Pop’s “Cock in my Pocket.” Several punks crowded around the mixing desk as another mate turned the volume Right Up. Pogo-ing was a thing.
Oh what a breath of fresh air.
The touring band’s roadies (often up to nine in total – what did they all do?) would come running and a fist fight would ensue. That’s the price for taking yourself too seriously. The Hillsborough had one of the two best publicans I have ever met, John Harrington (the other was Ray Newman at the Gladstone). And a good laugh was had by all eventually.
I have many Harry Sparkle stories I could relate, not all of them decent.
But I will tell you I saw him paste up the side of a parked bus in Cathedral Square one day for The Terrorways until the driver came running. Yes Harry could make a point.
I also saw Harry flat on his back on another occasion in the Shades Mall with his glue pot upended, posters everywhere and a dozen packets of panadeine cast about in the shape of a cross. For my sins, Harry.
But when a poster needed to go up you called Harry and he went to the maximum for New Zealand music which quite clearly needed to be heard and now has a very real place in the world.
The two other members of The Baby Eaters (Reuben and Johnny) are dead now as far as I know, as are many of the memories of punk. The grandmaster, Malcolm McLaren, died about a month ago.
I think New Zealand Music Month to be a truly great thing (but not universally great), but more than that, I like to see posters coming through for new and vital bands. But I’m going to finish with a joke because none of us should take ourselves too seriously:
This is what English comedian Ken Dodd once said:
“The man who invented cat’s eyes got the idea when he saw a cat facing him in the road. If the cat had been facing the other way, he’d have invented the pencil sharpener.”
The poster run in Trenton was highly enjoyable and I really tried to interact with local people. It worked.
Keep the Faith,