Remember that war between the UK and Argentina? The Argentine President has been sabre-rattling about it lately, it being 30 years on since that early 80s tragedy – a bigger 80s tragedy than big hair. What more of an absurd world could we still live in when the UK could go to war with Argentina? Oh, the President’s thugs coming out in her support. History has left us with plenty of geo-political absurdities, like the Falklands, Gibraltar, Australia (even the Queen has said she can’t figure out why Australia still wants her as Head of State. “My head is my own,” she once exclaimed, over sausages.) … Say no more – can’t we, man, just give absurdity a chance?
Our Duffo, then a London citizen, was right in the thick of this annus horribilis. Just at that time, at the declaration of war, Duffo hit the #1 spot on the Argentinian hit parade with his dance-snappy but smooth and velveteenly voiced take on the Reed/Bowie “Walk on the Wildside” (or live on Italian TV here – see how Duffo folds art into cool). Were the Argentines sending the Brits a none too subliminal message by buying up the Duff – “C’mon – take a walk!” – even on our “wildside” …?
Read more of the international crisis here, in your Australian Woman’s Weekly of February 1982, via the National Library of Australia. While there in the jaw of the moment, Duffo could merrily and thankfully report from HQ that his own work continued constructively:
“I just love living in London. I’ve done more here in the past four years than I could have done in Australia in a life-time”.
But then the Australian Woman’s Weekly reporter, chasing Duffo up in London, had this to scurrilously report back to mother Australia:
“That’s true! He’s been arrested for insulting behaviour outside No 10 Downing Street, slashed his chances of favourable record reviews by handing exploding cigarettes to journalists, been carted off to hospital claiming his coffee was spiked to prevent him from performing … and so on”.
What did all those Dame Ednas reading the Australian Woman’s Weekly make of this report, next to their crossword puzzles and knitting patterns, in 1982? Was it all true, possum? Just what happened outside No. 10? Glenn A. Baker, the Australian rock music historian, writes (in the sleeve to the Duffo Beggars Banquet CD) of Duff’s “body-stockinged stunt outside 10 Downing Street”. Hmm, not really enough to imagine what happened.
What about the exploding cigarettes? And the detention in hospital? And those sheep-brains hurled out to the audience from the stage? Symptoms of war-times, it seems. For Mr Duff, these were no times for just standing around and floating about, like a stately ship.
Bowie’s manager Tony De Fries had Bowie of the Ziggy era going about in limousines and glamming up like a star. In the late 70s, Bowie did a very different publicity stunt outside No. 10 Downing Street (see pic) – when he showed minimal celebrity, in touch with the common need for a quieter life, and the political need right now for everyone’s intellect – or to just read the papers. This was quickly followed, in the early 1980s, in London, with no more space for glamorous stars – not even the simpler or more thoughtful ones. Times had become disgusting, and it was time for art to constructively exploit everyday disgust. Duffo was one of the Australian musicians who came to London in the late 1970s and early 1980s to take up this challenge. Duff took it up daringly, risking his social security and mental health to make a burst of artistic points about the musical possibilities of punk, while critiquing the popular music industry. So this news of Duff, in the Woman’s Weekly (then as common as Chicken Cacciatore in Australia), brought the times home to its readers.
This 1981 release of “Walk on the Wildside” (off the Bob the Birdman album) was followed with another release in 1988, and then with a dance-mix in 1989. The video accompanying these later releases was itself a hit: representing Australia at the MTV video awards in New York, and opening the Sydney Film Festival in 1988.*
> Listen to the controversial chart-topper at this Jeff Duff and the Prophets page.
> Calling all earthlings: Aliens from our own Solar System intercept Duff’s “Wildside”. This is serious.
> Read about another scene-stealer – "Furry Larry" – at No 10.