I knew it was coming, and I’d been feeling it all day and I guess for several days, but the distractions of work and a young child and just the various ins and outs of a day can keep you from focusing on certain urges. And so it’s already late afternoon when I sit down knowing there’s something I need to blog about that’s important to me and as luck/irony/fate would have it, I stumbled upon it by a hunch.
The Triffids are/were probably the greatest example of the most unknown/best-kept-secret of all the 80s Aussie indie pop bands. The Church and even the Go-Betweens have a certain notoriety that lifts them up to at least the glowing edges of the mainstream. But the Triffids swept through the outback for their brief moment and never much made a dent on foreign soil, at least not in the US.
Having said that, they were one of those bands I’d heard tell of here and there throughout the years, and when the Church covered their “best known” song “Wide Open Road” on their latest acoustic album, I knew I needed to check them out. Shamelessly I downloaded a collection of “early singles.” Come to find out that this collection was fan-made, a gathering of out of print, hard to find, vinyl only releases of their earliest “official” singles and EPs dating between 1981 and 1983. I say “official” because this extremely prolific band released at least six or seven “tapes” of original music between 1978 and their first single “Stand Up” in July 1981, a prize for winning a song competition.
“Stand Up” was the first ever song I heard by the Triffids, less than two minutes of jangle pop about youth standing up for itself, for its right to have a good time, to be in love, to listen to the music of their choice, yet realizing how fleeting it all really is because one day, we’re all dead.
And that’s what brings me here to this post, as today, February 2, 2009, marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the mastermind behind and face before the Triffids, David McComb, who died after complications from a liver transplant.
I am a Triffids fan but not much of an aficionado. Sure, I’ve read up on them, but I’ve not gone out and bought up their entire catalog (which is rather extensive). There are a couple of reasons for this. First, as I’ve learned and initially did with the Go-Betweens ten years ago, I like to savor the moments of a new, previously existing artist. I’ve almost always been a late comer, even to new/current bands, picking up on them around the second or third album or after the hype of the debut has started to fizzle out, and so rarely am I catching fire with that original spark-and-wonder along with everybody else. And for the most part, that’s fine. Usually an artist isn’t worth half the hype and if you find them on your own and can discover their worth without the external blah-blah, you’ll likely enjoy them far more because you’re doing so for your reasons, not someone else’s.
In a way this sorta brings me to the second reason… I’m not a “huge” fan, initially, of a lot of much of what I’ve heard of the Triffids latter output. The big problem here is production. Oh, 80s, you fickle canker on the lip of good music. You wowed us with your new and innovative sounds and then when you wore out your welcome, you left your mark with such a lasting impression that you give away your flaws before we can ever get to the meat of what you’re trying to show us. Rambling? Ok…well, long rant short, a lot of it is very dated sounding. You know what I mean, big drums, heavy strings, massive production, reverb-verb-verb, etc. And that’s really a shame for the Triffids ‘cos McComb’s songwriting is instantly witty, morose, self-loathing and in summary, heartbreaking. This is a man who lived the rock n roll lifestyle even if his band wasn’t burning up the charts. And the hearts he broke and bottles he shared and the visions he saw along the way, all made it into his songs. This is never more evident than in the group’s hallmark, critically acclaimed 1986 sophomore release “Born Sandy Devotional.” (And that’s said by folks much more in the know about it than I am.) Here you’ll find the aforementioned “Wide Open Road” (live video). If BSD is the album that sums up McComb in a nutshell, this is the song that does the same.
The Triffids fell apart somewhere in 1989 after releasing three more critically well received albums, the only other one which I own being “Calenture” (go here for a definition of that word). The lead track I sing to Fox when I’m trying to settle him down to fairly favorable results. (However, singing the “Stand Up” single’s b-side, “Farmers Never Visit Nightclubs,” just gets him worked up again…who knew?) After the band fell apart David McComb attempted a solo career as well as founded (then exited) the US college familiar band Blackeyed Susans (named for a Triffids song). As is so often the case with worthwhile music, the Triffids were never very successful even in their home country. Shortly after the band’s demise, the Western Australian Music Industry was having a big event, giving out awards and such, and one was for the most outstanding contribution to the national and international music scene. The Triffids won and the only member present at this black tie event to accept the award was Jill Birt, the group’s keyboardist, who was serving drinks at the event honoring her band. And yet to prove they’re not completely forgotten or unappreciated, all of their proper albums have seen reissue and re-release (with bonus tracks) over the past couple of years, including a vinyl box set of those early singles (which, regretfully, I could not justify the expense of purchasing). This is because fans of the band are loyal and, like so many bands of their caliber, ravenous. If you don't believe me, just check out the detail of the various entries on their wiki page.
Hooray for the underdog!!!
Though I’m not overly familiar with the bulk of his work, David McComb has influenced me as a songwriter and a lover of music in general. He wasn’t afraid to be who he was, to live his life and to express it in song for the world to hear. It’s that kind of open honesty that allows so many folks around the world to identify with the pain of living the life they’ve been given, the choices and circumstances and consequences of the daily strain. David McComb and the Triffids were one of those shining few.
So David, buddy, wherever you are out there, here’s a thought and a prayer just for you.