by Bernie Dowling
Blues-rock diva Janis Joplin liked to shout at her concerts that drugs 'n' sex 'n' rock 'n' roll would get us well; would get the whole world well. Joplin died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. Janis was not around Brisbane between 1986 and 1992, the setting and time frame of Queensland journalist Bernie Dowling's first novel Iraqi Icicle. But drugs 'n' sex `n' rock roll certainly were. In spades. Along with war.
In October 1970, when Janis died, heroin was an international scourge and America and its allies were prosecuting the Vietnam War. In January 1991, heroin was an internatonal scourge and America and its allies were prosecuting the first Iraq War, also called the Persian Gulf War.
Janis Joplin rates a passing reference in Iraqi Icicle, a private detective thriller with an unlikely sleuth, Steele Hill, an orphan who claims to be John Lennon's love child and lives for gambling and altrnative rock music.
"I am interested in how popular culture, such as music, film, television, theatre, the internet, gambling and even drug use, intersects with mega social events," Dowling says. Brisbane rock band the Go-Betweens is a symbolic character with the novel asking why the Aussie alternative guitar popsters never gained the success of their American contemporaries R.E.M. or even Britband The Smiths. A Go-Betweens gig at the University of Queensland is in the mix as well as the destruction of Brisbane's hilltop rock concert venue Cloudland where the Go-Betweens supported Brit ska band Madness in the early 1980s. The novel questions whether rock music lived up to Joplin's boast of it changing the world.
Whenever he drives by, Steele Hill shakes his fist at the yuppie white apartments which replaced Cloudland and he says the Go-Betweens wrote a song about the ballroom's demolition. He is referring to a few lines from the band's most successful single The Streets of Your Town.
Dowling's novel never leaves Greater Brisbane but it includes Steele Hill's take on the rock music mythology of the 1989 American invasion of Panama. The pretext for the action was to bring Panamanian president Manuel Noriega to justice for drugs and arms trading. The international media reported, with varying degrees of accuracy, how American troops blasted rock music at the Vatican embassy where Noriega had refuge before he surrendered.
Steele Hill calls it "rock's part in Manny's downfall" and suggests Noriega begged the invaders to stop the music. "No more Twisted Sister; no more We're Not Gonna Take It," Steele Hill imagines Noriega pleading.
Iraqi Icicle is a darkly humorous novel of a period which saw the explosion of personal computers and mobile phones in Australia, and, in Queensland, the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption which toppled the long-serving Joh Bjelke-Petersen government.
392 pages softcover