A KIWI IN EVERY HOME
I'd like to take this time to talk a bit about all the great stuff the island nation of New Zealand has done for the world of rock and roll.
While most people think of New Zealand as the place where they filmed the "Lord of the Rings," (which I'm sure has been the biggest influence on NZ's economy in, well, forever) I prefer to think of it as the homeland of Dean Wareham and Justin Harwood.
Harwood was in a great Kiwi band called The Chills, who are still around (in terms of personel changes, the Chills are the Kiwi Spinal Tap, or maybe Yes) after 17 years of being NZ's coolest group. He'd been in Big Sideways and Coconut Rough, and if you've heard of those bands, you might be from New Zealand. In December 1986 the then current Chills lineup released `I Love My Leather Jacket', which reached No. 4 in the New Zealand charts and No. 3 on the NME alternative charts. The band took off, played Glastonbury, toured the States, and recorded for John Peel. Eventually they'd relocate to London (got to believe the airfare is cheaper from England to the US), and in 1990 Justin Harwood left to join Dean Wareham's newly formed Luna. After several years, he left Luna to return to New Zealand to start a family, taking his big bald head and bass with him.
Wareham was born in New Zealand; he moved to Australia and then to New York while in his teens. With a few Harvard buddies (ie, Damon and Naomi) he formed Galaxie 500, one of the greatest post punk/neo Velvet bands ever. On the verge of a major recording contract, Dean left Galaxie 500 and formed Luna with Harwood and ex Feelies drummer Stan Demeski (not from New Zealand). Now Luna is breaking up, as I'm sure all of you know, though they will play one final show at Bowey Ballroom in late February, and you can be sure I'll be there.
The latest NZ exports to register on the cool meter here in the States is the Datsuns, named after those little Japanese cars and light trucks we all loved in the 80's. The Datsuns have toured the US and Canada with the Pixies and the Donnas. Influenced by AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Deep Purple, and T. Rex, they've refiltered the 70's through their Kiwiness and emerged one of the big winners of the last year or so. To paraphrase the Splendid e-zine interview, if you're a fan of "Live at Budokan," you might like the Datsuns. Either way, the people in the record industry think they're pretty hip. Plus, they're from a town about a half hour away from where the Bagginsess lived.
Now, the New Zealanders everyone knows are, of course, the Finn brothers. Tim Finn first formed Split Enz and then Crowded House with his younger brother Neil. Crowded House is certainly the Biggest Band of Kiwis Ever (not counting the Hobbits, who, we are told, are fictional), complete with hit songs, MTV airplay, etc. Neil Finn is still very much around (DirecTV had one of his shows on "Freeview" a few months ago, and while I coulnd't make it through it, apparantly someone can).
Another well-known Kiwi contribution to the world of pop/rock is the Rocky Horror Show, written by Kiwi Richard O'Brien, and first performed on stage in London, mid-1973. There are lots of other NZ bands that made some kind of impact in the last three decades or so, although few of them are well known outside of their home-bands like the Bats, the Verlaines, Tall Dwarfs, and the D4.
For a country with a population of just over 4 million, that ain't so bad.