Michael Gudinski looms large over Australian music. As tour promoter, record label owner, artist manager, publishing guy…which means he looms large over New Zealand too, as creator of Mushroom Music and Frontier Touring. He’s gone on to have film successes (Chopper, Wolf Creek) but his real passion, it seems, is living work. Working always. Never sitting still. Endlessly talking, deal-making, living life on that excruciating edge of taking millions – or losing them. It’s the thrill of the chase and it’s about being a larger than life character, a gangster-image, suited and booted, appears very swiftly in Stuart Coupe’s thrill-ride of a biography. We have that initial clue in the title but as the pages hurtle past – beginning with a fascinating, edge-of-seat account of when The Rolling Stones nearly cancelled their 2014 tour Down Under following the suicide of Mick Jagger’s girlfriend – we realise, as Coupe points out, it’s Gudinski’s world. We just live in it. And owning that world means Michael gets to clip the ticket. You get the feeling, time and again, that’s his favourite thing in the world (he’s created).
Coupe, a veteran Aussie rock writer (and former Paul Kelly band manager) has had his own dealings with Gudinski, so part of Coupe’s clever stitching together of the various threads to the Gudinski story is to bring part of himself into this text. He handles this aplomb, he’s able to give real (rare) insight – as Gudinski has famously never wanted a book about himself. The end-result here then is a book that’s unauthorised but comes with a weary nod in place of a full, grinning blessing. You get the feeling that Gudinski likes, needs, craves control. Somewhere, right about now, he’s paying someone to read this book aloud to audio-tape so he can a) listen to it in his car on the way to and from work (which is always and forever) and b) work out some way to package a deal to maybe get some back-end action on an audiobook version that comes with Godfather-himself cackling at the end of paragraphs.
It’s a success story through and through, though the best bit is hearing about some of the failures…the acts that slipped through his fingers, or that Gudinski didn’t rate. His dream of cracking America with an Australian act has (mostly) evaded him and yet several of the names of Aussie acts who made it big there, or got closer than anyone else are bands that Michael couldn’t hear right. He’s gutted about these minor failures. You have to consider them minor because he’s Michael Gudinski. Bigger and better across nearly every page and certainly from chapter-to-chapter.
Coupe has cleverly made the book neither hatchet-job nor hagiography; unauthorised biography’s two usual resting posts. It’s a tall order and unenviable, get it right and you might never work again. Get it wrong and you’ll certainly never work again.
What’s amazing here is that from immigrant/underdog story through to world-conquering cockiness there’s a respect that Gudinski has earned. So even when reading about near-unfathomable multi-million dollar deals you’re rooting for the Aussie guy done good. What’s more amazing is that whether working the room on a big-tour schmooze or still championing the little guys and girls via his hired ears Gudinski is formidable, almost always undaunted and unbeatable. Setbacks? Fuck it! Plough on.
The way this book has been put together – essentially the story of Australian music (and how international touring came to Aussie and New Zealand) – makes for easy, enjoyable reading. That’s Coupe’s deft skill. It’ll be our good fortune that he certainly gets to work again in that town – and it’s hopefully not another decade between books (also check out his previous one, The Promoters, a teaser/taster of the Gudinski story is part of this tale).
What’s more, when Michael Gudinski finds time to let someone finish reading this book to him we could be nearly certain, with a grudging wink no doubt, he’s even deigned to recognise himself in these pages.