Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: How Bizarre … Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World by Simon Grigg (Awa Press, 2015)

I'll be honest, when I first learned that New Zealand music identity Simon Grigg was writing a book about Pauly Fuemana (aka OMC) and the hit song 'How Bizarre', I was more than a little bit wary of how it might work out. Of whether or not it would work at all.

After all, how much could possibly be said or written about that one song and an artist whose musical legacy was otherwise strictly limited? An artist who is no longer with us (RIP Pauly), and a song that is the best part of 20 years old.

What I didn't fully appreciate at the outset however was Grigg's intimate knowledge of his subject matter, or indeed, his ability to weave all of the peripheral events into an utterly compelling tale. Even just a few pages in it soon becomes obvious that this book is about so much more than the making of a global hit record; it's an in-depth analysis of the inner workings and peculiar mechanisms of the music industry, both locally and abroad. Well, at least the pre-internet music industry as it stood in the mid-to-late Nineties.

More than that, it's the story of a charismatic young man swept up and washed away by a series of events that took him beyond his comfort zone. Beyond anything he could possibly have previously imagined during his humble South Auckland upbringing. Events that eventually started to spiral well beyond his control. The story of a talented yet massively troubled young man ill-prepared for the fame and (limited) fortune that came his way.

And if it's about Fuemana, it's also about producer Alan Jansson, the studio wizard and collaborator behind 'How Bizarre', a far less tragic but equally inspirational figure, without whom there would have been no hit record and no story.

It's also Grigg's story, in context of the author being the owner of the label that initially released the record. As the friend, mentor, and almost constant globetrotting companion of Fuemana. And as the close friend and confidant of Jansson. That makes Grigg an authority on all of the events as they unfolded, and provides for a unique overview of the processes associated with making, releasing, and promoting the record.

Grigg is also able to offer honest views on all of the important personalities and parties involved. Plus rare insight into the era, the fledging South Auckland “scene”, and the wider “urban pacific” genre. The book is also testimony to the author’s meticulous record-keeping. Nobody else could have told this story with the love and detail offered here by Grigg.

And so 20 years on, the full story behind ‘How Bizarre’ – the first (only?) NZ-recorded and released song to feature on Top of the Pops – finally gets written. It’s a story every music fan should read. Many of the key elements within are surely not unique to this particular record. Or specific to New Zealand, for that matter. More simply, ‘How Bizarre’ is one of those hard-to-put-down books you’ll want to finish reading before you do anything else. Highly recommended.

How Bizarre ...Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World by Simon Grigg is published by Awa Press, and is available now, priced at $38.

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