SEVEN VOICES: Tales of Madness & Mirth, by Mike Chunn (Purple Egg Press)

 

 

SEVEN VOICES: Tales of Madness & Mirth, by Mike Chunn (Purple Egg Press).

 

Two brothers skive off from their boarding school in AucklandŐs eastern suburbs. They head into town to buy the new Beatles record. ItŐs called Revolver, and it will change their lives. Getting off the bus at Customs St, they look in the window of a hip shoe shop. Cuban heel boots are out; fake-fur leopard skin slip-ons are in (as worn by the La De Das!).

 

The teenagers are Mike and Geoff Chunn, but they could be anyone who came of age in 1960s New Zealand. Although the fledgling rock scene – its dreams, absurdities and frustrations – is the backbone of Seven Voices, the small book projects a panoramic image of New Zealand life in the last 30 years. Its seven short stories are fictionalised autobiography, and it is the detail and honesty that make them so special. Unconsciously, the structure imitates the classic coming-of-age novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (even if it didnŐt open with the author biking off to early morning Mass); like Joyce, ChunnŐs stories capture the moment, with appropriate language and memories, then leap ahead several years for the next instalment.

 

We witness an archetypal New Zild childhood in Onehunga, the deprivations and stimulations of boarding school and puberty; the excitement of an outside world full of freedom (ie, BeatlesŐ records and local heroes such as LarryŐs Rebels), makeshift early bands, the Enz down on their luck (but living a dream) in Ray DaviesŐs London, the nightmare of pot-induced agoraphobia, and a return to New Zealand in the 80s, with Citizen Band (and our charming cradle-to-grave society) about to explode.

 

ChunnŐs risk publishing this himself has paid off. The design and production are superb, as are the stories themselves. Snapshots that record the spirit of each quickly changing era – a rundown Newmarket, instant coffee in Parnell – are neatly updated later. He also takes risks in the writing, hilariously shifting to stream-of-consciousness (as when he asks a nun about wanking, or fancies a girl on a Waiheke dancefloor). It could do with a little tightening, and a few less distracting puns, but this is a little gem that deserves an audience far wider than just the music obsessed. Just in case (Enz cultists as underwriters), a five-track CD is included, as a soundtrack to each era.

CHRIS BOURKE (Rip It Up, 1997)