Last year I wrote a post declaring Jordan Luck my pick as the great Kiwi songwriter. Obviously this was not an aim to pick one "best" - it was more a case of shining a light on someone I think has been somewhat undervalued. Since then he was given a QSM - and I was pleased to see him honoured. I've grown up with Jordan Luck's music and I really do think he's given us some of the greatest songs this country knows; he has a rare skill in being able to channel so much in and through a three-minute pop song. Big singalong choruses, great hooks.
Soon after writing that post I interviewed Jordan Luck for the first time. (Well, many years ago I had email-interviewed him for a student magazine, but I'm not really counting that.) The record company was releasing a new Exponents hits collection and I was called up and asked to contribute a band bio. I was given Jordan's phone number; told to call him after 6pm one night and get him to fill in the blanks.
He greeted me down the line like an old friend. We chatted about music - I took in the history of his band and his movements from Geraldine and Timaru to Christchurch and now to Auckland. There was the story of going to the mother country and writing, almost in one mad burst, the entire Something Beginning With C album; the one that rejuvenated the band - a rebirth.
Luck speaks with a stammer born of excitement. He pontificates, very quickly he will grow excited - and he draws in all manner of music. We talked about old blues records and new bands, we talked about rock'n'roll and skiffle, country and the latest pop. And I got enough material for my band bio note for the record label.
That interview turned out to be a useful ice-breaker. A couple of weeks later I was on the plane up to Auckland for a research trip for my book, On Song. Jordan was one of the people I had organised to meet. The plan was to discuss the song Victoria - it's featured in the book. But of course I wanted to chat about so many other songs he'd written. And we talked, also, of songs he wishes he'd written; songs he's covered - songs he loves.
I had not met Jordan Luck before. But I called him up on the way to his house - I was scheduled to arrive mid-afternoon. And I thought I'd offer to pick him up a coffee, some beers, chips, anything he wanted...
"No-no, no-no, no. I'm good." He almost sounded gruff, possibly even put out that I would suggest bringing anything.
When I made it to his place the front door was open - and I stood still and knocked on the door-frame. But I knew I had the right place. The stereo was blasting The Stone Roses' first album. And then Jordan stumbled through the hallway, he'd tripped on something. He was oblivious that I was there - he was on a mission to collect something. I called out and he changed his plans and welcomed me, a stranger, with open arms - a huge hug. "So great to see you buddy."
A tour of the house, music memorabilia all over the place - a giant CD collection, the records tucked away in storage. He was playing music through the computer's speakers; he showed me how he had been working his way through a list of Top 100 rock songs a friend had sent. He was reading up on each song as he played them - even if he knew the song well. He had been "chipping away, a few songs each day". Sometimes he sounded, just a bit, like Sam Hunt.
We walked to the bottle store for Friday afternoon refreshments and retired on his deck. I'd been there less than half an hour - I felt as though I was catching up with an old friend.
I interviewed 30-odd people for my book. And I had great experiences. Many interviews were over the phone or via email. The Jordan Luck interview was one of the most memorable. It lasted hours and we rolled in and out of interview mode, in between times we were old mates, reminiscing over music. I was asking him about songs that he'd written when I was six and seven and eight years old; songs I'd loved since I was eight and nine and 10 years old. And he was filled with an enthusiasm I had never encountered before, so positive, but it was all so real.
There was so much life in Jordan. A kind, funny, thoughtful man. Sharp-as too. When he drifted off mid-story, a touch of waffle to fill it out it was only because his mind had tricked him, was racing on to the next thing.
One of the greatest songwriters this country has produced. Easily one of the best rock'n'roll frontmen when on form. And here he was all puppy-dog excited to show me his signed Pere Ubu box-set, to talk about The Screaming Meemees and The Body Electric; how Pulsing was "so ahead of its time" and "one of the best things around then and now". He had so many funny stories: behind the scenes of the NZ TV show Blind Date - when they had The Exponents on as the potential suitors for one lucky lady. Then there was the time they got kicked off a tour with The Divinyls.
There were phone-pranks and vehicles that broke down making them late for gigs. There were venues that couldn't pay and there was a lot of excitement about a lot of music.
We talked for hours. And at one point Jordan said a heartfelt thankyou to me for writing the book - I hadn't, at that point, made it beyond contacting prospective interviewees. But he was one of the early supporters who helped me to understand that it was a really cool thing to be doing; a privileged experience. He told me that it was important for us to document our stories, to get down the bits about our culture that make it our culture and that so much of it was lost in a sense; TVNZ were recording over tapes, deleting files, locking things away. The government was not funding local shows and local channels. He believed that we had a duty to tell these stories, to find them, before they were lost.
He's right. Of course. And he was kind to suggest that I was having some part in that with my book. He made me see that that is exactly the point of the book - to share the stories of others and their songs, the music that lives in them. And to then be telling part of my story through that.
Luck has written some great songs. Grab an Exponents greatest hits collection, run your thumb down the first dozen entries. There are the obvious contenders, the ones we all know and remember, some we might be sick of - but is it really the fault of a song if it's overplayed? Isn't that the fault of the people? Jordan writes good songs.
And if you don't think so then it's worth revisiting Know Your Own Heart, All I Can Do, Your Best Friend Loves Me Too, Like She Said, Airway Spies, Christchurch (In Cashel St I Wait), Only I Could Die (And Love You Still), Caroline Skies and all of those other songs too.
But don't forget Victoria.
Jordan certainly hasn't. One of my favourite stories in the book On Song is the story of Victoria. Because I wanted to reflect the time spent talking with Jordan and his passion for music - his own, and in fact everyone's. And where he could have wanted to promote any of the songs I've named or any of up to a dozen others, he was so very proud of Victoria. He said he owes his career to that song. It was the band's first single. It was the one that made them. That and the early performances. It was his reason for being who he was as writer, performer, entertainer, rocker. It was the start of everything in so many ways. And I found that form of honesty refreshing.
And it was great to have someone so open to being summed up by just one song. It's a tricky prospect and no one really wants to be defined by just one piece, just one part of the puzzle. But Luck was so embracing of this idea; so happy to reminisce about all that Victoria meant - one of the toughest of the earliest songs. It took a lot longer than anything else he had written up to that point.
I don't think I've ever had more welcoming hosts than Jordan Luck and his wife Rita.
About a month or so after I met Jordan and had a great afternoon drinking beer, getting my Dance Exponents LP signed (as I alluded to here) and being filled up with some of the best stories from one of the most down-to-earth heroes, I was in the hospital. It had been a long day. A very emotional and amazing day. My son - my first son, Oscar - had just been born. We'd had family members to visit and I had been on phone duty, sending texts and receiving calls. Making an announcement on Facebook.
About 7pm I took a call from someone I didn't quite recognise. I thought I knew the voice, but maybe not. He said "is Oscar Sweetman there please?" And he was quite firm about this. Quite definite. I didn't quite know what to say. I looked into the little plastic tub that held all six and a bit pounds of Oscar, parked up there right next to me. Katy stirred from her sleep because of a curiosity in hearing my tone for this particular call. And so I told the truth. I said "He is here. But he can't come to the phone." There was a howl of laughter. And then: "Simon! It's Jordan Luck here, my friend. Now you didn't tell me you were going to be a father. I bet you've just had the best day."
I told him that it had been pretty amazing. I asked how he was, thanking him for the call. "I'm all right, but don't worry about me. This is not about me. This is about you and your beautiful wife and that darling wee boy. Remember this. It's very special. You take care and make sure you all look after each other."
That phone call took place a year ago today.
Happy first birthday Oscar. Hopefully one day you'll meet your Uncle Jordan.
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