Half Deaf, Completely Mad by Tony Cohen with John Olson
As a wannabe hippy, young Tony Cohen found enough trouble with his school, parents and the law for his family to decide to help him find a job in the music business. Obsessed with music, he did work experience at Armstrong’s in South Melbourne – one of the first studios in Australia. His job consisted of fetching coffees, manually copying tapes onto cassettes 200 at a time, and pressing ‘start’ and ‘stop’ on recording machines when the engineers told him to.
He worked his way up to production assistant and on some not very memorable records, but soon found his way under the wing of Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. Cohen helped Meldrum record Supernaut on their first single, ‘I Like It Both Ways’. Showing enough proficiency, and also being cheap, Cohen produced their debut album. He also worked with Meldrum on The Ferrets debut record, and ended up an in-house producer at Richmond Recorders.
One of the bands that he was assigned happened to be The Boys Next Door; he found the house grand piano filled with metal rods, screws, curtain rods and thought to himself, ‘This should be interesting.’ The most detailed parts of this book are the years working with Nick Cave and The Birthday Party as together the band and their producer changed the sound of music and the way it was recorded. There were very few times Cohen heard an idea that he wouldn’t try.
In many ways the hero of this book is Mick Harvey, who herded the cats, focused the chaos and got the work done. Without him, The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds would have been very different.
In between recording The Boys Next Door and The Go-Betweens, Cohen ended up living at Richmond Recorders and sleeping underneath the piano for nearly a year. When The Boys Next Door come back to Australia as The Birthday Party and record Prayers On Fire, his burgeoning amphetamine and heroin addictions met up. The next few years found him in Berlin working with The Birthday Party, Crime & the City Solution, and Einstürzende Neubauten. As his health and stamina deteriorated, he came back to Australia and spent a few years recovering.
Cohen’s full discography includes The Cruel Sea, Dave Graney, Robert Forster, TISM, and The Beasts of Bourbon. Half Deaf, Completely Mad is an amazing story of his life and his art.