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Shake Some Action: My Life in Music (and other stuff)

Shake Some Action: My Life in Music (and other stuff)
Stuart Coupe
Penguin Books, 2023, $35

For 40 years Stuart Coupe has been an acquaintance, interview subject and, thanks to many books and his prolific social media activity, a constant companion.

So this review is biased: Coupe is a hero of mine.

We have lived parallel lives. He has said and done much of which I am extremely jealous and some with which I fiercely disagree.

If you are a music obsessive like me you will love this book.

When Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese first met Stuart Coupe years ago, he said, ‘I grew up reading your music writing’. Photo: Supplied

From age 11, Coupe says, he has wanted to share his love of songs with others. And though there were “moments of arrogance” in his 20s when he wrote “some caustic reviews” he now says, if people are listening to music that matters to them, he’s cool with that.

Coupe has worked as a journalist, author, editor, manager, record label director, radio presenter, publicist and tour promoter – many as one to envy, some as a celebrated failure. In addition to music, he has two-timed with crime fiction, prominent as a book reviewer, founder and editor of Mean Streets magazine and co-founder of the Ned Kelly Awards.

His story of passionate obsessions is a rollercoaster ride that alternately makes you laugh and wince. Today, having turned away from some other bad habits, he’s still a music junkie.

At one of the many publicity events since the book was published, responding to a question about what could be done about the reportedly diminished live music scene in Sydney (something to which he referred in his book), Coupe said, “Go out more.

“I don’t think it is as bad as people think it is. I think it is really healthy.”

He said there was a tendency to romanticise the late ’70s to early ’90s and that Sydney didn’t suffer for a lack of venues. The biggest problem was that people didn’t go.

Referring to Australian folk artist Grace Cummings and singer and guitarist Cash Savage, he said seeing those artists playing in Sydney was just as life-affirming and exciting as anything in the halcyon years of the Sydney music scene.

“I don’t buy into the ‘music isn’t as good as it used to be’. There is so much great Australian and international exciting music.”

(Keep in mind that Coupe is still a music publicist making amends for the enormous promotional mistakes he self-effacingly documents in his book.)

Stuart Coupe (right) with Michael Gudinski who was the most powerful and influential figure in the Australian rock’n’roll music business and is mentioned often in Coupe’s new memoir. Photo: Supplied

There’s lots of justifiable name-dropping in Shake Some Action: Roadrunner, RAM, Sun Herald, National Times, Dolly, Dylan, Hoodoo Gurus, Paul Kelly, Lucinda Williams, Link Wray, Harry Dean Stanton, Rosanne Cash, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, PJ O’Rourke, The Clash, The Cramps.

And Coupe says he is still the same crazy fan. And who wouldn’t be after hanging out with Springsteen in Paris and seeing him play live dozens of times, and Jagger, Cohen, Gudinski, Brian Wilson, Larry Flynt, Chris Whitley, Graham Parker, Steve Kilbey, Neil Diamond …

The book is easy to read. Coupe’s style is to write like he is speaking to you – just to you (something he learned from radio and the music writers he admired).

Even though he’s become a music lush in his old age and I still prefer my music writers to educate and share their aesthetics – and to be willing (compelled) to write caustic reviews when required – Coupe was and remains a supremely knowledgeable and tasteful guide to the music that matters. And he makes you think about what you like – or don’t like – and why.

If you are interested in music new and old, read this book, listen to Coupe on FBi and 2SER, and follow him on Facebook. Jump aboard his long, strange trip.

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