Quite a few years ago (time does fly), there was a locally written novel in our bookstores by a Melbourne English teacher Peter Minack, titled ‘CWG (Campaigning With Grant)’. It is written from the first person perspective of Brigadier General John Aaron Rawlins, aide to Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union Army in the latter stages of the US Civil War.
It is remarkable that such a novel can be written by an Australian, rather than someone in the United States itself, who would be far more likely to be immersed in the knowledge of American history.
But Peter Minack is a rather remarkable person. Under his highly inappropriate stage name of ‘Ron Hitler-Barassi’, he was the lead vocalist for the avante-garde alternative Melbourne band TISM (short for ‘This Is Serious Mum’) which enjoyed great cult success in the 1980s and 1990s.
TISM were very satirical, and possibly too clever for their own good (I think they all were Melbourne Uni Arts and Law students), but clever they were. I remember listening to their EP Form And Meaning Reach Ultimate Communion (with TS Eliot on the cover) in mid 1987 in the John Medley Library at Monash University. Their song about TS Eliot was extremely witty.
I had reason to think about TISM recently. I have the habit, at work, of ironically exclaiming ‘GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!’ several times per day, in imitation of our sports commentators. It is the Olympics after all. A colleague said that this reminds him of TISM’s 1995 album Machiavelli and the Four Seasons, and it’s 1996 bonus disc GOLD! GOLD! GOLD for Australia! which includes a very dark take on our excessive enthusiasm for the Olympics and similar sporting contests.
The members of TISM would be in their late 50s or early 60s by now, and the sort of fiery satire which drove them in their undergrad years and into their 20s and 30s is probably extinguished, or down to the embers. It is unlikely that they will reunite and do more gigs or new music.
I cannot, as I head further into my 50s, feel a little sad about that, given that I first heard their music when I was 18, and I wonder how all those years have swept by so quickly.