Music Opinion

John Farnham — The Voice of our nation

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John Farnham has achieved massive success worldwide and touched the hearts of many (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

As John Farnham battles serious health issues, Naomi Fryers reflects on the gifts given to us by one of Australia's biggest music icons.

BEING BORN IN Australia in the early 1980s, there were some things that were constant in our outer suburban abode — The Comedy Company, AFL and John Farnham. I can’t have been much older than four when I received my first cassette from the southern hemisphere Santa one hot Aussie Christmas. I was beyond delighted that it was home to a host of Johnny Farnham’s Greatest Hits released in 1980.

From ‘I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus’ to the novel hit track ‘Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)’, that cassette had years of airtime while I sang and danced my heart out in my older sister’s oversized t-shirt dresses. I have always loved the injection of joy music can immediately pour into life, but John Farnham’s classics make me feel reminiscent the best.

Having always been a writer, as a youngster I penned Johnny a love letter. If memory serves, it was from some kind of little black book of celebrity “addresses” as curated by a teen magazine. I was delighted to receive a reply and be invited to join his fan club. Weeks prior I had won a Corinella colouring competition and had the coin to spare. So I promptly joined.

I don’t recall what I received as part of my fan club pack when it arrived. But I do remember this — from even before I received that first cassette, Johnny Farnham had laid a stake in a massive part of my heart. Farnham's ability to produce timeless classics, that charisma, his stage demeanour, that remarkable ability to connect to everyday Australians the nation over with his salt-of-the-earth lyrics still gives me chills. I know I’m not alone, either.

I put a callout amongst friends for their favourite John Farnham anecdotes and like the great man himself, they didn’t disappoint. Friends described him as a gem – something I concur with – both rare and precious. My friend Carolyn is a die-hard fan and has seen him live in concert three times, once circa ’86 in Sydney where he amped up fans, while underpaid security tried desperately to subdue the crowds. She remembers three encores and an extra 15 minutes of play time.

She added:

“I bought his cassette and travelled across Canada, the U.S.A and on to England. I think I wore it out.”

Nicole then piped up:

“I got Whispering Jack on tape when I was eight for getting my tonsils out. Absolutely hammered it. Best album.”

Decades later, Nicole's husband covered You’re the Voice in death metal on Spicks and Specks. My cousin Tracey joined the conversation to remark that she had fond memories of her parents taking her and her sister to the Johnny Farnham concert in Gosford on one “amazing” New Years' Eve.

Leesa chimes in that as a kid, her Dad drove her to a street he once lived in near Park Orchards. But also that she had first seen him in concert in 2012 but loved him as leader of the Little River Band. Emily piped up that she listens to Pressure Down' as part of her morning playlist.

Not long after, Chong Lim’s old PA slipped into my DMs to recall fond memories of meeting the “larger than life” icon. And yet another cousin, Deb, who worked in showbiz PR for decades, can confirm that he was a man of the people.

Then there’s my old mate Martine who tells me her Mum used to do his washing back in the ‘Sadie’ days when they lived in Box Hill. They used to joke that ‘Sadie’ had been written about their Mum. Then, when her sister later found out he once held her as a baby, she swore off bathing she was so excited.

Clearly, mine was not the only heart he touched, although I soon remember my own Johnny Farnham story. We had a friend who’d been a famous international DJ (renowned for producing original mixes of club bangers at elite on-trend nightclubs across Asia) who couldn’t attend my wedding. Instead of sending a telegram to read on the night, I had insisted he curate a playlist for us.

Let me assure you he was none too enthralled to find himself meshing Two Strong Hearts with When I’m 64 to be couriered across the globe on a secure Ipod for the big day. Which, in retrospect, is a little bit hilarious. The fact that our mate begrudgingly obliged now reminds me of his own strong heart, as well as Johnny’s incredible music and memories — like a mixtape compilation of the greatest.

With Johnny Farnham’s health now in a precarious state, we must acknowledge his remarkable contribution and celebrate all the amazing memories and gifts he has given the nation over. With gratitude in our hearts and our toes tapping along to Chain Reaction’, fans the nation over can't demand an encore from a man that has given more than enough of himself publicly over the decades. But, we can hope that he makes the biggest comeback of them all.

Naomi Fryers is a writer, author, storyteller and TedX speaker from Melbourne.

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