Friday, November 26, 2010

Rock In Peace Pat Pickett

A true legend of the body-breaking behind the scenes world of the Australian rock industry died early Friday morning in Sydney.

His name was Pat Pickett, a veteran roadie, sound tech, lighting tech, inspiring verbal historian of the Australian rock legends he counted as old friends, and (often involuntary) surrogate on the road father to thousands of young, straight from their hometown, musicians and road crew, over the past four decades.

He didn't teach bands to do the best show they could, he told them they had no other choice. If they didn't perform, if they didn't do it for real, if they didn't mean it, the audience would know, and the audience would kill them. Two Australian bands that heeded his advice, gained from decades of seeing, and hearing, what audiences liked, what got them off, are The Hard-Ons and The Screaming Jets. There are dozens of others.

If you've had those periods of your life where you've gone and watched heaps of live rock, then you would have seen Pat Pickett behind the sound desk, or working side of stage. He may have even told you to get the fuck off that sound desk cable you were unknowingly standing on.

This is Pat Pickett a few years ago, holding a postcard from 1977 that his friend Bon Scott sent back from England.

Pat went on the road in the early 1970s, and barely left it.

He saw many friends ground down and spat out by the music industry, crushed under ridiculous demands, sapped of inspiration and creativity from having to play five or six nights a week, for months, years on end, bodies shattered by the demands of the road, 5000 late nights, schedules that only young people can keep.

Pat must have driven trucks full of roadcases, vans full of musos, the equivalent of two or three times to The Moon and back, along every highway, road or spine-rattling dirt track that leads to an arena or a crumbling pub across this massive land.

Pat came back from yet another year on the road a few weeks ago, in time to find out how sick he really was, but with not enough time left to do anything about it.

Now he's gone.

Pat Pickett on
the early days of AC/DC :
Angus and Malcolm wouldnt stop playin if they broke a string and it was great cause they were so small i could stand behind them and change it while they were playin. A lot of people don't believe it but its true.
He had so many stories like that. So many tales of life on the road, onstage, backstage. Some were hard to believe because he told them so well, because they were so perfect, the way rock n' roll stories were supposed to be, instead of the dreary PR-mutated droning of today.

When I first met Pat, I used to make notes during gigs I was reviewing for Juke or On The Street. This pissed him off. After the 5th or 6th time he saw me doing this, he walked over, grabbed the notebook, threw it away. "You're missing the fucking show. You don't have to write everything down to remember it. If you don't remember it when you get home, it's not important."

He was right. The time to start reviewing the gig was a few seconds after you got home, with enough of whatever had made you tingle left to stay awake and get it all down.

There probably isn't an Australian band, who've done the hard slog of years in pubs & clubs, who doesn't have a Pat Pickett story to tell. More than a few would cause a riot in the media today, if journalists dared to publish them, which they probably wouldn't anyway.

Pat's life was a life lived hard. But I lost count of the number of times I saw Pat taking the time to talk to people who really needed someone to talk to in the post-midnight hours when the troubled can never sleep. He counseled so many, over beers, on long truck drives, or during those endless hours waiting, at gigs, at hotels, at airports, at truck stops, the waiting that makes up most of the time spent on the road.

A lot of fucked up kids wind up drawn to rock music, some onto the stage, some into road crews, some only ever in the crowd, and Pat Pickett talked to them all when others had no time to. They seemed drawn to him. He was no Mother Theresa, but he did his bit in saving lives, of that I've no doubt, because in the years since I first met him, I've heard plenty tell me how he told them to snap out of their bullshit headspace; do the job they were paid to do; go back home where they belonged; get away from abusive parents or partners, or just to simply lay off the booze, or drugs, because he could see they were taking it too far and he didn't them winding up dead like his old mate Bon.

You were one of the good guys, Pat.

The Australian corner of that bar over there is getting damn crowded these days.