Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
To the enduring disbelief and/or delight of customs officials the world over, I was born in Wagga Wagga. Subsequently raised and schooled in various locations around Australia, according to the whims of the Australian Army, in which my father served. The less romantic distillation of that is: mostly Canberra and Sydney.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, I think I wanted to be fighter pilot, except on weekends, when I would of course be starting at centre half-forward for Geelong. By eighteen, having clearly abandoned any notion of civic duty and resigned myself to my total athletic ineptitude, I wanted to be a rock journalist – indeed, by this point, I was actually being a rock journalist, if not a terrifically good one. At thirty, I was perfectly happy doing what I was doing – ie, being a journalist and author – although I wouldn’t have objected to being better paid for doing it. At 44, this remains the case.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That’s an excellent question, and one which I asked myself a lot writing my new book. Obviously, tastes change – one would prefer to think mature – as does one’s idea of what constitutes a good time. But I’m not really sure that the contents of my head at the age of eighteen could really be regarded as coherent beliefs – more a melange of barely examined sentimental prejudices in favour of peace, justice, brotherhood and so forth. I’m still in favour of all those things, but suspect that my ideas about how or indeed if they might be accomplished have become rather more hard-headed.
Also at eighteen, I nigh certainly believed that there was no chance of medical science advancing sufficiently to allow me to live long enough to see Geelong win a premiership. I am especially delighted to have been proved wrong on this one.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
First and foremost, being taught to read, and to love reading, by my mother. Reading Melody Maker in the late 80s made me want to be a rock journalist – or, more accurately, a much better rock journalist than the one I was already being when I first read Melody Maker. Reading PJ O’Rourke’s Holidays In Hell in the early 90s made me realise, or at least hope, that it was possible to apply the irreverence and iconoclasm that once characterised the rock press at its best to other types of journalism. “Reading” would appear to be the common thread.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
They might be. But they’re still – and will be for a while yet – the most bracing and rewarding challenge to a writer, and the best measure of a writer’s value. In relation to everything else, books have the same relationship that Test cricket does to the one-day and 20/20 formats – the shorter variants may be fleetingly more popular, and much more superficially dazzling, but nobody remembers the games afterwards.
Thought you’d never ask. It’s called “It’s Too Late To Die Young Now”, and it actually addresses – at much greater length – a few of the questions asked above. It’s a memoir of my late teens and early twenties, which I spent being a rock journalist in Sydney and in London, so writing it obliged me to spend a great deal of time with my half-a-lifetime-younger self. This creature mostly struck me, to my considerable relief, as basically quite a nice kid, if possibly somewhat untowardly pleased with himself – but then young people often are, especially when they’re that lucky.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb –There is no field of journalism more mythologised or more derided than rock journalism – with good reason, according to Andrew Mueller.
And he’d know. Starting out writing for the Sydney music street press in his teens, by his early twenties, Mueller was working for the legendary UK music weekly Melody Maker, earning a living by listening to records, going to gigs, hanging out in seedy pubs and travelling the world with his favourite rock groups. In barely two years, he went from a childhood bedroom with a poster of Robert Smith to The Cure’s tour bus in the United States.
Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, the years Mueller was living the dream – the late-eighties to the mid-nineties – were actually the last hurrah for the music scene as we knew it. The era of flourishing live pub venues and record stores, and rock journalists as cultural arbiters and agitators, is now long gone.)
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I’m tempted to answer that if I thought my work was in any danger of changing anything, I’d stop doing it. I have reached that middle-aged understanding, at once terrifying and liberating, of how little I (or anyone else) really know. But I’m always happy when someone writes to me to tell me that as a consequence of reading something I wrote, they’ve thought something about something that they otherwise might not have, whether this has led them to completely rebuild the very foundations of their worldview – this, in truth, occurs rarely – or merely to check out a record they hadn’t heard, but have discovered they quite like.
8.Whom do you most admire and why?
Uncritical admiration of individuals is obvious folly – plenty of musicians, artists, writers, athletes and politicians whose work I’ve appreciated have been personally flawed, and in many cases altogether reprehensible. As a generality, though, I most admire those people whom journalists tend to cover least – which is those who quietly and unfussily get on with stuff, put in a solid day’s work doing whatever it is they do, help others out when they can, observe common courtesies, and generally do their small part to enlarge the space in which civility can flourish. You wouldn’t know it from consuming our news media, but they’re a majority.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’m more or less entirely happy doing what I do, so I’d just like to keep doing it. At which point ambition, I guess, does come into it – as I have an ambition that sufficient people will buy this book to make someone think it’s worth paying me to write another one – but I don’t get to have a great deal of control over that. I’d also like to do more of the reporting I enjoy doing most, so I guess that I also have an ambition that more people will realise that long-form travel reportage and/or foreign correspondence is still worth paying for – but I don’t have much say in that either, unless a lottery win and/or the onset of insanity makes launching my own publication seem a plausible notion. In the nearish future, I would also like to make another album with my awesome country band, The Blazing Zoos, and have one of the songs on it recorded by George Strait or someone so I can have that guitar-shaped swimming pool I’ve always wanted.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Depends on my mood. Sometimes, exactly that: aspire, ie write and write and write and write, and read and read and read and read. Other times, a variant on “It’s too late for me, but save yourself.” But it’s mostly the former: keep at it, refuse to take no for answer, and develop an ironclad indifference to the rejection and indifference that most of your efforts will elicit. Because if you can get away with it, it’s the best job in world.
Andrew, thank you for playing.