I understand Marc Hunter could be cruel. I remember him for his kindness.
We met cute and we ended poignant. Marc’s parting words to me were among the kindest words I’ve ever been gifted.
But that was far down the track, ten years or more after Marc and I first met in late 1979.
I was 18 and I had just moved to Sydney from Melbourne. I was slightly overweight and not the least bit cool. That’s as it should be, as Marc knew what it was to be a fat teen and I don’t think he ever gave a rats about cool.
He was sitting on a bench by a bus stop on the overpass above William Street, where Victoria Street crosses Darlinghurst Road. These days the Cross City Tunnel toll road runs beneath this spot, and a high-rise building asserts itself where blue sky once was. The area immediately around the bus stop was dusty, with some rubble: a neglected spot with a semi-derelict bus shelter where junkies would shoot up.
As I walked across the overpass, on the pedestrian pavement, I saw Marc Hunter and I recognised him at once. Marc had been the lead singer of Dragon, a New Zealand band who achieved chart success in the late ‘70s. Like almost every other teen in Australia, I watched the TV show Countdown every Sunday evening, and I knew Marc Hunter as a very tall, willowy exotic, with strong features and fierce green eyes, whose costume was influenced by ‘70s glam rock and prefigured the New Romantics of the early ‘80s. Which is to say, Marc dressed somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and the Matrix. (On this day he was dressed down.) I knew the words to his hits, I could name bandmates, I could visualise their publicity posters. I hadn’t seen them play live. I didn’t yet know that a Dragon live show was stronger, more menacing and wilder than their pop hits might suggest.
I did know that Marc was no longer with Dragon. I knew he had been sacked by the band, who included his older brother Todd, in consequence of his drug and alcohol abuse and his unpredictable behaviour. I knew he’d released a solo album called Fiji Bitter. I knew he had spent some months in London, and travelling, and that he had only very recently returned. It’s possible I’d read an update in the paper that week.
So I had the advantage. I knew something about Marc Hunter. What he saw was a young girl in boots, striding towards him.
As I walked past, he said, “You’re very pretty.”
That stopped me in my tracks.
“If you were offered money, would you pose for Playboy?”
I considered, watching him.
“It’s just that we have a friend, a friend of our band, who was offered money to pose for Playboy.”
Playboy had launched its Australian imprint in February 1979. Media magnate Kerry Packer secured the rights and launched it as Australian Playboy, through Australian Consolidated Press (ACP), his magazine stable.
I gave the proposition a moment’s thought. “No,” I replied.
“Why not?” Marc asked me.
“Because I don’t know who I want to be later in life. I might want to go into politics” I said.
Marc reflected on this, and smiled.
I don’t know who raised the prospect of sex. Probably Marc. That would be a typical Marc gambit: say something outrageous, throw someone way off guard, and see how they react, how they reassemble.
I reacted the way I always have: by going on the offensive.
“If you want to have sex, we can do it here and now,” I countered, doing my update of a film noir femme. “Look. There’s a bus shelter.”
Marc backed right down. “My friends are collecting me any minute,” he said. “Their car will be along any minute now. Perhaps another time.”
We nodded at each other, and I walked on.
The next night I was partying at the Manzil Room, the legendary (and tiny) Kings Cross venue that served as a late night hang for musos. I think I was with Cold Chisel band members. Marc walked in with his partner Annie Burton, a well-known Sydney-based rock music writer, whose flatmate at the time, Jenny Hunter-Brown, another well-known rock writer, was Todd Hunter’s ex-wife and had recently begun a relationship with Cold Chisel’s Don Walker.
Marc was wearing a jaunty peaked cap, a Robin Hood hat. As I was introduced to him, he doffed his cap and gave me a slight bow. His eyes sparkled. Marc loved games. Score 1 to me.
I became a rock music writer. Dragon – without Marc – split up in December 1979. In 1982 the band re-formed – with Marc – to pay off debts. In 1984 they released an album, Body and the Beat, that was worthy of their talents. The single, Rain, was a joyous burst of energy co-written by Todd Hunter and his partner Johanna Piggott, who had played together over 1980/81 in the indie pop band XL Capris. (Todd had sounded me out, briefly, one night in the Manzil Room, for a job as the band’s wardrobe mistress.)
In 1985, keyboards player Paul Hewson died.
I did not like Paul Hewson. We had clashed. I’m not going into that story here. What was significant to this story, my story of Marc Hunter as I knew him, is that Paul’s death affected Marc deeply.
After Paul’s death the tabloids went wild. Perhaps not coincidentally, the next Dragon single was Speak No Evil. Reviewing that single, I pondered in print: “Is Marc Hunter going to sound 22 forever?”
Next time we met Marc remembered. “Thank you, “ he said. After his death, from throat cancer, at age 44, a collection of his solo recordings was released under the title Forever Young.
I was assigned to write a cover story on Dragon for RAM (Rock Australia Magazine). I put a lot of effort into writing that story. I had, if anything, an over-abundance of material, given Dragon’s astonishing – and tragic – history. And Marc had opened his heart to me. He had talked with little prompting about Paul Hewson, the band’s earliest days, their hardships, their reputation, their aspirations, his temperament. He spoke with passion. I remember him saying, with feeling, that rock’n’roll is designed to strip performers of poise. His heroes were the great interpreters of American popular song, performers like Ella Fitzgerald, whose poise seemed effortless.
The Hunter brothers contributed two pieces of life advice I continue to use as touchstones. The occasion was a Dragon gig at Sydney University. I had arrived early, backstage, and I did not know their road-crew. I felt their crew were disrespectful to me. When Todd arrived, I bleated a protest.
“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke,” Todd advised.
Marc arrived. He looked at me appraisingly. “Stick out your tits and walk.”
When I feel someone’s trying to put me down, I recall that line: “Stick out your tits and walk.”
There are things I’m not including as I write. There were moments between Marc and his partner I witnessed, and moments between Marc and his girlfriends, that are nobody’s business. What was curious to me is that Marc seemed unconcerned when I blundered into his personal conversations. He was alternately completely calm, or amused.
The only time Marc savaged me was once in 1988, and he was so right. I had become embroiled in a quasi-cult, a “personal effectiveness” organisation. Participants in one of that organisation’s programs were assigned the task of creating a project as a vehicle for their personal “transformation” – as a means to “breakthrough”. Several participants threw their energies into a project designed to bring together members of Sydney’s Indigenous communities with white Sydneysiders. The key event was a fundraiser rock concert headlined by Dragon.
I danced all afternoon. The gig was great. Everything was cool until I mentioned backstage how (as I saw it) that concert had come about. How some of its organisers were part of this quasi-cult.
Marc never cared for cool. He exploded.
“You mean, this is part of SOMEONE’S FUCKING SELF-TRANSFORMATION?” he roared.
He was furious. He lashed out at me as an idiot for being involved with that group. Like I said, he was so right.
I’m glad that was not the end of our story.
Eighteen months later, my life had imploded. The quasi-cult had wreaked a reverse transformation. Instead of breakthrough, I was in massive breakdown. I was a danger to myself. I made painful plans to return to Melbourne.
This was the hardest time of my life – it has competition, but I think it was the hardest. I gained a lot of weight and was acutely depressed.
A short while before the sale of my home was completed and my belongings packed, I walked along a pavement and saw, through glass windows, Marc seated at a restaurant table, watching me walk towards him. He waved me across. He gestured for me to come inside and join him.
Marc was eating lunch with a friend who worked for a top booking agency, a woman I didn’t know. We had a conversation that felt odd, with this woman across the table, oblivious as she was to the emotional subtext. I was dissolving in the slough of alienation, evaporating.
Tenderly, Marc reached across the table and took my hands in his. He drew my hands towards him.
“So highly strung,’ he crooned. He paused. “So highly strung.”
Then, still holding my hands, he said: “You are a fine-bred race-horse.”
I nodded, unconvinced.
He held eye contact, and repeated softly: “You are a fine-bred race-horse. Never forget that.”
I’ve never forgotten.