Not the Band You Think They Are
On writing Something So Strong, 1997
One of the difficulties of writing the Crowded House biography was getting the tone right. Their public image – the witty, approachable lads from Down Under – was only part of the picture. Behind the scenes occurred all the usual human emotions when several strong, articulate personalities are placed together in situations of stress and absurdity.
I wanted to capture the camaraderie and the internal dynmics of the group, while also keeping the story musical rather than sensational.
Although the book was done with the cooperation of the band, it isnÕt ÒauthorisedÓ. Neil Finn would have preferred, I think, that no book was written. HeÕs only 39, after all does this mean itÕs over? And, like everyone who has been involved with modern media, he was a little squeamish about how the story could be manipulated. He didnÕt want it to be Òsqueaky cleanÓ, but instead to describe their experiences accurately while frankly stating to me that nothing he has read has ever captured the magic of actually being there.
When he gave the project the go-ahead – which meant all those in the inner circle spoke to me – he said, ÒGet around and talk to everyone, and interview me lastÓ. That just meant, the less time he had to spend going over the story yet again, the better.
The three core members of the band were completely different to interview. Paul Hester is a born raconteur. Out of the band two years when we spoke, he had had plenty of time to reflect on his experiences – and plenty of time to talk. Nick Seymour is the educated intellectual of the group, but also its natural, outgoing ambassador. So after years of interviews, heÕs developed a style of euphemistic philosophising which may make good sound bites but isnÕt much use for a biography.
By the time I got to Neil, heÕd made the decision to split the band up. (Although I felt a little high-and-dry at first, I quickly realised how much better the book would be with the story complete.) You could feel him still working out what heÕd done when we spoke. He was reluctant to tell anecdotes at first (ÒIt shouldnÕt all be light-hearted and funnyÓ), even though story-telling is the basis of history. But out of the analysis came many good yarns, particularly about his childhood in Te Awamutu, which heÕd never been asked about in depth before and sharp insights into the characters involved. He has occasionally compared being in a band to being married to several different people at once. IÕm sure any polygamist would admit that leads to a difficult, intense life – not to mention all the additional anxieties involved in keeping the creative muse productive.
So all the strands of the story, with lots of crosschecking, are somehow woven into a, hopefully, accurate narrative. The historian Michael King, when I interviewed him about his life of Sargeson, compared writing biography to trigonometry: where all the differing viewpoints intersect, thatÕs where the facts are likely to be. You also have to be a detective, and a diplomat. Actually writing the story seemed to be the least of my worries.
Although I wasnÕt writing the book for the band, delivering it to those involved caused some trepidation. Nick Seymour read it in one sitting as he flew to London. He says he laughed a lot, and wondered how they made it so far. Neil seemed to be impressed with the research, but still feels odd about being the subject of a book. And Paul Hester, the most cooperative and entertaining of interviewees? ÒWell, Chris, IÕm sorry, but I havenÕt read it. I canÕt face it at the moment. But when people ask me, IÕll say, IÕm sure heÕs been very thorough – I just wish he made more of it up.Ó