“By the way, what’s it like writing a magazine purely in crayon?”
When you are talking to Ron Hitler-Barassi from the Australian musical institution TISM there isn’t a lot of polite conversation.
Ian Bennington spoke to Ron about the new release The White Albun, performing at ACMI and football players rape alligations.
Almost as soon as the conversation began Ron launched into a series of diatribes. His first target was the staff of Madman Entertainment, the manufacturer/distributor/promoter of TISMs latest release – The White Albun. “I’ve never seen such a pencil necked bunch of jerky movie aficionados in my fuckin’ life. All the chicks are anorexic and nervy and all the blokes have got their little French moustaches, and I’m not kiddin’ about this, but the bloody poster on the wall is ‘Elégie de la traverse un film de Aleksandr Sokurov’”
This company may sound like strange bedfellows for a band with songs like ‘I’ll have ya’, ‘Somebody start a fight or something’ and ‘TISM are shit’, but that is missing the big picture. TISM have maintained their manufactured image of, as Ron puts it “low-rent, outer-Eastern suburbs, yob rock” peddlers, but the reality is that they are a group of educated, talented, creative, now middle-aged men with a strong sense of the Aussie larrikin, who put as much thought into their image as their music.
It is not every band who sell-out the screening of a concert film at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. In typical TISM fashion though, Ron portrays the coup as a rock ‘n’ roll swindle, “When we actually explain to those pencil necked propeller heads that our DVD is actually going to entertain the audience, I’m pretty sure that we will be kicked out of there straightaway, because nothing that has ever been shown at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image has ever entertained the audience by anything but by pure chance.” In making this claim, Ron may not have been aware of the 10th anniversary screening of Bad Boy Bubby at the end of May. “Yeah, we’re the Bad Boy Bubby’s of rock mate…and I recon’ mum put in a good performance too.”
To all the Swinburne students – writing tends to be read lef
For those that came in late, TISM (aka This Is Serious Mum) are the masked rockers who were playing shows when Guy Sebastian was still soiling his nappies. Their succession of bizarre costumes regularly becomes the focus of any discussion with band members. That is second only to their refusal to reveal their actual identities. Then have been so unique that they couldn’t be ignored, despite their frustrating the medias attempt to get any scene out of them.
Regardless of the ongoing popularity their identities are still unknown. It is widely accepted that the band members have day jobs and lead normal lives, so the mention of the band is often met with tales of spurious connections. “I don’t recon there is a person in Melbourne who doesn’t know a member of TISM. Let’s face it, there is seven of us and we’ve been going for eighteen years. If there was something interesting about TISM members, after eighteen years it would have been found out, but there is nothing interesting about us – we’re just the next bloke in the street.”
The new release is a double DVD/single studio album. One of the DVDs contains a “docunentary” along with a variety of live recordings from as far back as 1983 and the complete TISM video collection (so far). The other DVD is a multi-camera, 5.1 channel recording of the Save Our TISM telethon show from the Hi Fi bar last September. One of the viewing options is “RonCam”, where you can choose to watch an edit where Ron is constantly in shot.
“The thing about DVDs is that it allows for something called the directors cut, which is basically [where] all the boring crap that was taken out for good reason, is put back in to satisfy the grand ego of the director. What we said here at Madman was, ‘we want a whole radical new departure on this on. Now hold onto your chairs there, we want to give it what’s called the Audience cut. What we do is we edit the thing down so that it is entertaining to the audience.’ It took them a long, long time to come around to that.”
This cut of the concert is not for the weak of heart. As Humphrey B. Flaubert puts it “anyone who has been to a TISM show knows, there is a certain amount of nudity involved”, and this show doesn’t disappoint, with Ron being dragged out of the audience stark naked, with only a black blur to protect the viewers innocence. “Madman [Entertainment] are the biggest independent DVD distributor /manufacturers in Melbourne, but they had to get a new supercomputer in to get enough power to pixilate that dick. To get that chopper masked out they had to get something in from NASA. With a mongrel that size we had to hook up all the Eastern seaboards computers.” If you noticed you internet running slow a few months ago, you have the costume-hungry TISM fans to blame. As to whether Ron has ever been groped during one of these nude forays “only by my fellow band members”.
This begs the question of TISM groupies: “unfortunately they all tend to be male rugby players. I don’t mind a spit roast, but not when I’m the one revolving on the stick” clarifys Ron.
Inevitably the conversation turned to the ongoing rape allegations against football players of all codes “This will be shocking for the two or three students at Swinburne that can read. We’ve been hanging round with Shane [Crawford], and we’ve got some shocking news about the Hawthorn football club. There are two current players who…and I’m ashamed to say it…have engaged it consensual monogamous sex, with a partner, in a happy relationship. To think that all the young boys playing Auskick looking up to their AFL heroes thinking ‘when I grow up I can have consensual monogamous sex’, that disturbs me, very much disturbs me.
“We’ve talked to a lot of Sydney papers today, and I’m challenged the whole of the Canterbury [Bankstown] Bulldogs to a fist fight on stage. There is one thing that you have got to say for the Bulldog boys. If I went up to them and said ‘listen give me your reaction to these three words: Consensual, Monogamous and Sex’ they would go ‘Ron, you’re jokin! That is oxymoronic. Consensual and monogamy have no place in intercourse.’”
The white box with white writing on a white background may prove to be a bit of a pain for marketing, but this is typical of TISM. After all, their first EP was released sealed on all 4 sides, making it impossible to get to the vinyl without resorting to cutting it loose.
The new album contains the pop culture criticism that TISM is renowned for. In a climate where so many ill informed public figures becoming the story, where even Big Brother contestants have a viewpoint (“Merlin is Australian new social conscious isn’t he? He spends half an hour on the fuckin’ Price is Right and now he recons he is a credible social spokesman”), the band that gave us “Kill Americans” and “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The House Of Representatives” isn’t making any comments on Howard, Bush or Terrorism.
Could it be the disturbing resemblance of the band to the masked executioners that are clogging up the internet, but Ron explains “It’s a very sexual album. We’ve gone from the world of wider politics to the world of the emotion. There is a sexual poignancy running through our songs”
The release is a very blatant parody / tribute to the 1968 white album released by The Beatles. “Paul [McCartney] is not happy about us calling it the White Albun, but I’m pretty comfortable because I haven’t heard anything from George or John.”
With a career spanning three decades, there are bound to be some co-incidences. Forming about a month after seeing the 13th anniversary tour of The Residents, TISM have again mimicked the masked San Francisco musicians by parodying a Beatles album.
“Who is going to be the last surviving member of the Beatles? Nic Cester! With the White Albun, what were doing here is flagrantly riding on Jets coat tails. We’ve done exactly what Jet has done – copy the Beatles nearly word for word.
“People have said that TISM have been ripping off 60’s and 70’s artists, and just taking a riff from here and a lick from there and putting them together, and that is why we are leading the new rock movement. That is complete bullshit, we reject that unreservedly and our next album, An Exile on Main Streep will put to rest all those rumours.”