Stranded in Paradise Twice Over
Author: Trevor Reekie
Published in 1988, the original Stranded in Paradise became the literary equivalent of a Kiwi turntable hit. That's to say it was done on a shoestring budget, didn't really have a marketing budget, it got a lot of press and great word of mouth, but sold at best enough copies to cover costs.
And it went on to become a cult classic.
That Mark 1 Stranded in Paradise was the first comprehensive book of New Zealand rock'n'roll, much of it reading like the interviews were conducted in a bar or (post gig) backstage. It's a kind of oral history and that's what makes it the special book it is.
John Dix is a good man with a big Welsh heart. His parents emigrated to Adelaide, Australia in 1967 when he was 15. By then the music bug had bitten. Ray Charles bit him first. Dix took to Adelaide but his parents didn't and returned to Wales leaving Dix, aged 17, footloose. He didn't waste any time. Burning candles from every end on alcohol and amphetamines he put himself through night school (in journalism), kindled relationships with some of Australasia's hottest acts, namely Max Merritt and the Meteors, and won the Australian State Lottery - twice!
The second time was the big one. He bought a Pontiac then lost it in a card game.
When he first started researching Stranded in Paradise Dix was 25. He just turned 54. He's actually lived the book.
"You can't really write about rock'n'roll, you have to listen to it and live it. Well, that's what I did."
So is he surprised he got this old?
"Luck yeah," he laughs. "I have a series of friends who died at 53. Last year on my birthday I was reminded that Bruno (Lawrence) died at 53. Tommy (Adderly) died at 53. I'm going to take it easy this year. So I'm there, (now) I'm relaxing."
'Stranded' is more than a rock and roll book - it's a social documentary narrated through our Saturday nights. It's about growing up in a country where being a musician was a fancy word for dole bludger. About being perpetually on the other side of the world. Mostly it's a bloody good yarn about hedonism and heroism.
Most people probably thought it sold more than it really did.
Stranded in Paradise has had its own chapter's-worth of mentors - stretching back to 1979. In the lead up to the original publication in 1988 four sets of publishers dropped away through sharemarket crashes and disputes over editorial control. Lawyers even. Eventually a group including Dix published it themselves and by soliciting discounted pre-orders helped finance the final hurdle.
It sold its initial pressing of 10,000 but the publishing team couldn't afford to re-print. The book went out of stock and in recent years even fetched quite big money for second hand copies. To say it barely broke even was actually flattering.
Dix remembers only one bad review the first time round. "David Cohen from the Evening Post said it was 'poorly researched and badly written'. We included that on the posters and flyers."
Now revised, nearly 20 years later, with the benefit of PCs and hindsight, 'Stranded' sews together our various musical themes into a narrative as told by many of the participants. The anecdotes make it human and non-perfunctory. Dix admits that it was a difficult time during revision and credits new publishers Penguin for the editorial assistance, endurance and including him all the way in the decision-making process.
The new revised Stranded in Paradise, has Jon Toogood on the cover - "An easy choice," says Dix.
It is much to the credit of Finlay McDonald, the non-fiction commissioning editor at Penguin, (who was instrumental in securing David Lange's biography), for kicking Dix's arse all the way.
John Dix makes no claim to it being definitive. He's clearly uncomfortable with the word. He sees it as storytelling entertainment and that reflects much of the spirit of the book. And 2005, officially 50 years since rock'n'roll's humble inception in Aotearoa makes for good closure - at least for the time being.
John Dix on writing the original Stranded in Paradise:
"It was a milestone in my life and a millstone."
Favourite New Zealand song:
"Poi E - Dalvanius was a great man."
Dix's best joke of our interview:
What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? - Homeless
Dix's favourite part of Stranded:
"As a storyteller , it's the Dragon and Hello Sailor chapters cos it's very sleazy and they don't give a fuck!"
Dix's own favourite rock book of all time:
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
One contractual agreement with Penguin included:
They paid for the original 'Stranded in Paradise' to be re-typed.
The line 'Stranded in Paradise':
Is from the song Record With Pictures from New Zealand by Hammond Gamble's Street Talk written Kim Fowley, Glyn Tucker, Stuart Pearce, Jim Lawrie and Andy MacDonald