Simon Grigg has been at the heart of New Zealand music’s development since the late 1970s. He started out working in record shops before managing New Zealand’s first punk band the Suburban Reptiles and then moved on to more substantial projects with Propeller Records and bands Blam Blam Blam and The Screaming Mee Mees and Furtive Records with the Newmatics.
Then he was off to the UK and a life as a DJ and dance music maestro before coming back home to own and operate Auckland night clubs including Cause Celebre.
Hard won experience in the music business told him that Alan Jansson (one half of Body Electric and responsible for that bloody annoying song Pulsing) had the production skills that could create hits and success. Simon and Alan then thought a young stylish club goer called Pauly Fuemana might have enough talent to make a record or two and have a crack at commercial success.
It turned out that the talent had lots of charisma but little actual musical talent. But Jansson, obsessive and determined, transformed a few snippety lines and slurry phrases into a whole quirky song. How Bizarre was undoubtedly from the South Pacific and unconventional, unique and poppy-accessible enough to be a hit.
The joy in this book is the experience of watching the How Bizarre triumph initially in New Zealand, and then in Australia, the UK and Europe and eventually the USA.
It was a long road with many twists and turns but eventually How Bizarre got to number one in the world’s biggest market, a remarkable achievement for anyone let alone for a record made by a young man from South Auckland.
Grigg had the countless machinations of the major record company internationally to deal with, not least the local branch’s boss Victor Stent. The grind of working with international record companies and the constant battle of wits and attempts to rip off will ring true to anyone who has encountered that world. They have a go while you are on your way up and then another when you are on your way down.
But Grigg’s problems are not at all limited to those involving his record company partners. Pauly has a talent but needs Jansson’s studio nous and perseverance to build his musically worthwhile fragments into coherent and commercially viable songs.
Like so much that works in music, How Bizzare is the result of true collaboration and like many collaborations the star soon begins to see himself as the sole creative talent and resents the other collaborator’s input, not to mention share of the income. It is an age-old problem in the music business and always ends in disaster.
Incompetent management (Grigg was the record label not the manager) and the multi-national record company inability to understand the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of the act combine with the development of Pauly’s rampant ego and a touch or two of genuine nuttiness to create a swirling maelstrom from which Pauly’s career would never escape intact.
He was so driven by the crazy forces that attached themselves around the international success and the idea of the money that was being generated that Grigg’s voice of reason never had a chance of being heard.
Pauly couldn’t produce any half decent music by himself, his star faded and his money ran out, his health deteriorated and he died young. A short squandered musical life.
In this book the actual star who emerges is the quiet and shy Alan Jansson and his tremendous talent in the studio for writing, arranging, recording and producing smart pop music.
But Pauly knew best and threw away any chance he had of an ongoing career. Perhaps he wasn’t at all cut out for that crazy life anyway where only a degree of smarts and levelheadedness gives anyone a chance of surviving, let alone prospering.
How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song That Stormed the World (Awa Press) has to be recommended reading for anyone interested in music and the weird shit that happens behind the scenes of what is called the music business.
Grigg knows this world and, against the odds, helped create a monster international hit and explains clearly how the industry works and malfunctions. As well, he writes with affection and exasperation about Pauly Fuemana who experienced such huge success only to blow it all away.