I joined the Crowded House Fan Club at the age of forty plus. The subscription was motivated—sadly, but not unpredictably—by greed.
Frenz of the Enz was an umbrella organisation (if that word can be used for something so quaintly amateur) set up by long-term tour manager cum general factotum Peter Green to meet fans’ insatiable hunger for information about Split Enz, Crowded House and all related organs of music making.
Having paid not even the slightest attention to any fan club ever, my first awareness of Frenz of the Enz was via the merchandise stall Peter and his sidekick booked at Camberwell Record Fair for a decent stretch of the 90s. A couple of times a year they’d rummage around in the various cupboards and storerooms of House Headquarters and select a few boxes of stuff to take to the fair. Sounds pretty daggy, and it was, but what a lovely idea. Here was a simple, unpretentious connection between a band of international renown and those local Melbourne fans who’d been following the Crowdies from their inception or perhaps even further back to the deliciously eccentric fruit salad of Split Enz.
Club members would wander up to the trestle table, chat to Peter about the latest Finn project or Paul Hester’s new band, maybe fill a gap in their Enz ephemera collection from the knick-knacks on display, then drift off again. It was not an expired Access All Areas pass or a back issue of the Club Newsletter I was after, however, it was a genuine Split Enz rarity that drew me to the stall (more here) and ultimately led to me signing up. For it was Peter Green who told me of a series of Fan Club only CD releases of live Crowded House performances.
I never saw Crowded House live—despite owning a ‘Farewell Melbourne’ t-shirt worn so frequently and fraudulently it has achieved the faded black patina of a true gig veteran—but I knew them from a bootleg CD acquired during European travels in the early 90s. It was fabulous: raw, energetic, ragged, engaging, alive!—exactly what concert recordings should be. So it was a no-brainer that the promise of further live Crowded House treats had me sending off my cheque to a Post Office box in Prahran.
A package duly arrived, containing the current newsletter. This slim volume introduced me to the wonderful and slightly scary world of the committed fan. List your favourite adjectives to describe each member of the band! Send in your design for an imaginary 45 cover! ‘Sister Madly’ indeed.
But more significantly, there was an order form for the first batch of club-only live CDs.
I ended up with a goodly selection of discs which I listened to a couple of times and then—sadly, but not unpredictably—filed away. Not that they disappointed (well, a couple were underwhelming, but it would be churlish to name names), in fact they confirmed why Crowded House were so popular in concert. Informality, warmth, generosity and spontaneity characterise the recordings from the earliest (1987, Myer rooftop) through to the final gigs (1996, Corner Hotel, Melbourne). They could kick ass too; the confidence arose from road-hardened arrangements while freedom sprouted from knowing each other’s skills inside out.
Periodically, something stirs in memory or is prompted by a flash of music news, and I reach for some live Crowded House. Yesterday it was the wonderfully chaotic Nick’s Birthday Party (9/12/1991, Memphis Tennessee) with it’s spontaneous birthday song for the bass player and a shambolic audience-driven set-list (Neil: ‘It’s your night, we’ll play whatever the fuck you want’) that delivers a snippet of ‘Ruby Baby’ as well as on-spec versions of Enz classics ‘One Step Ahead’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’.
But on Sunday night I won’t be just listening, I’ll be watching. Because Crowded House have reformed for a short series of concerts at the Sydney Opera House—site of their 1996 Farewell To The World concert DVD—to celebrate induction into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame. I won’t be there, but I’ll be there. The final concert is being broadcast live on TV; it’s my birthday eve and I’ll be planted on the couch, with the sound up and my faded t-shirt on, singing along and maybe getting just a little misty as those glorious pop songs are belted out into the Sydney night by a grey-haired but still vital band.
The fan club membership lasted just a couple of years; enough CDs to satisfy even my gluttony, sufficient inside information to solder an enduring connection to Mr N Finn and his music, a pewter belt buckle never worn for fear of an accidental appendectomy, a calendar consigned to the Op Shop long ago.
The music has fared better. When Neil goes into one of his sublime middle-eights my heart swells, when banter sparks between the players or they depart from the script I smile. Oh yes, Brother Madly will be there on Sunday night.
I wonder if the fan club still exists?
I wonder if they have a Seniors Membership?