|i'm in the sunshine|
Anyway, he likes receiving articles to assist him with the newsletter. Sometimes I provide something for him and those articles find a place on this blog site - for instance, the recent Paul Weller Opera House concert review. And more recently I've written something about New Zealand songwriter and Dragon member, Paul Hewson. He's a recent discovery for me and so I was quite pleased to come up with something from a songwriting perspective, ignoring as much as possible the legend and the hearsay.
Before writing I read Glen Moffatt's excellent serialised online essays about Paul Hewson, along with other articles and watching YouTube videos with Dragon members discussing their time in the band in the 1970s. I herewith acknowledge these sources.
The songs themselves are my best source. I think by now I've managed to listen to every Paul Hewson song appearing on Dragon albums, B-sides or singles in the case of 'Konkaroo' or 'Ramona', along with 'Get up and dance' which is featured on the live album Dragon in the 70s, and can be listened to on YouTube. Almost all of Paul Hewson's studio recorded songs from when he joined the band in 1975 through to 1978 - Dragon's 'classic' period - have been included in a compilation double-CD called Essential Dragon (2006), part of the 'Essentials' series. The songs on this compilation have been digitally remastered and selected by Dragon's producer from those early days, Richard Dawkins, the man who according to Glen Moffat cited Paul Hewson as a "compositional genius". The only Hewson song that's missing is 'Civilization' from O Zambezi (1978) which is a pity because it’s a damn fine song and fantastic Dragon track. The point is that all of Hewson's songs with Dragon are available to be sourced in some format or other.
Paul Hewson reminds me a lot of the late, great Jaco Pastorius, the electric bass equivalent of Jimi Hendrix. Both spent years working hard on their craft before giving in to drugs and alcohol when coming into the public eye, so that the worm of addiction was making its way into their lives and careers at the first bloom of success. They both sired children and had families from a relatively young age. They had big egos with a propensity to taunt and antagonise. One was afflicted with bipolar disorder and the other with arthritis and scoliosis. They flourished at or around the beginning of their careers and spent the last few years of their short lives dealing with the consequences of their addictions. And both died in tragic although unsurprising circumstances in their early to mid-thirties: Jaco at 35 and Hewson at 32.
One doubts that Dragon would have maintained their enduring appeal as a great Antipodeon rock band had Paul Hewson decided against crossing the Tasman sea to join the band in Sydney in the winter of 1975. Every Paul Hewson song I’ve heard is a gem. And it’s not just the songs – Paul Hewson is probably the best white rock piano player I’ve heard. Admittedly I don’t like too many white rock/pop piano players; there’s a fine line between taste and expression - and shallowness and fruitiness - in rock or pop piano. But Hewson’s playing is expressive and accomplished with none of that shallowness or bland fruitiness. I’d always loved Don Walker from Cold Chisel’s playing, but now that I’ve studied the songs of Dragon I actually prefer Hewson’s playing: tasteful, expressive, warm, lively and “conversational”. His phrasing is akin to dialogue and, like his songwriting, there is a dramatic flair, it “speaks” to the listener. The same could be said in a way for Don Walker, but Walker’s playing is more inward in approach, often cerebral or “mathematical”, whereby Paul Hewson’s playing is an unfettered and welcoming mix of rock, rock’n’roll and blues, with a faint classical element. Come to think of it, keyboardist Eddie Rayner from Split Enz was quite the man too.
My good friend Brigette met Paul Hewson sometime in 1983. Brigette was married to a music guy back then and came into contact with Dragon at a barbecue somewhere around Sydney Harbour. I remember Brigette telling me that Marc Hunter came up to her and told her, quite convincingly, “You have the most beautiful eyes of anyone I’ve ever seen”. Only recently in a general chat about Paul Hewson did she tell me that she met the keyboard player at that same event. She said they got on well, sparking off one another, describing him as amiable, but “schizoid”, a damaged, drug kind of guy. She told me:
“He [Hewson] got onto a chartered boat with the rest of the band. As he was boarding he turned back to me, waving and calling out “See you in the next life Brigette, see you in the next life!”, and he was dead three weeks later!”
I reminded Brigette that she was with her ex-husband at the time and they separated in 1983 so it wasn’t possible for Hewson to die three weeks later, and on closer inspection she realised this all happened not long before she separated from her ex-husband, and so would’ve been 1983.
Brigette’s told me some great stories about the 1980s – she’s a fine raconteur – as I was too young to immerse myself in the decade until around the end of it.
I was six, seven, eight when Dragon were at their dastardly best in those most licentious and OzRock years of 1976, 1977 and 1978. It was a time of anything goes, and one of the great bands had to do it – so it was Dragon. I wasn’t old enough (‘ahem’) to pick up on what was going on but I suspect that experimenting with heroin may have felt like the ‘right’ thing to do during the late seventies, part of the spirit of the times, matching copious supply. I was stuck at a boring little Catholic school not far from the Bondi Lifesavers and other legendary rock venues, most of which have since disappeared. In a way I’m glad I slept through it all.
And so, below is what I wrote for my mate’s little newsletter.
Everything happens for a reason. Or does it? I certainly didn’t think so when at the height of summer I was struck down with a nasty chest virus whilst on holiday. I was sprawled out on the bed in a cabin surrounded by lush bush with a river down below the nearby escarpment, the summery sounds of cicadas and birds, and I couldn’t enjoy any of it. I came back to the big city feeling depressed and a little ripped off and I wished for the remainder of the year to fly quickly so that I could go back and enjoy that little piece of summer paradise again, without the sickness.