Stranger Than Fiction: The Life And Times Of Split Enz

Stranger Than FictionOrder this bookStory: Original Split Enz bassist Mike Chunn, who played with the New Zealand supergroup in its formative art-rock-turned-theatrical-extravaganza phase (1972-77) charts the formation, the heady rise and eventual success of the group, with comments from all of his bandmates and his own insider perspective.

Review: Can there ever really be enough books about the musical career of the Finn Brothers? (For this reader: no. As it so happens, the first book ever reviewed in this section was a book on this very topic.) And strangely enough, the aforementioned book about Crowded House quoted this book heavily: primary source material if ever there was some. And source material doesn’t get much more primary than the memoir of one of the founding members of Split Enz.

The book starts long before the formation of the band, as the Chunn brothers make the acquaintance of one Brian Timothy Finn (his younger brother Neil, despite a keen interest in music, was still a youngster) at a boarding school in New Zealand. They would later meet the older and more experienced Phil Judd, who was already spending his time with other like-minded artists and musicians, and before long, with all creative and rebellious and creative cylinders firing in sync, Split Ends formed in college rehearsal rooms and set out to find an audience for its unlikely blend of meandering, epic music and bizarre on-stage theatrics. Chunn chronicles all of these tales with an insider’s view, there from the beginning, and revolving around the narrative thread of the evolving, complex, fragile friendship between Judd and Finn.

There’s a treasure trove of tales involving the writing of the early Enz songs and, more to the point, what they were about – not always as obvious as it might seem, as it turns out. Chunn interprets several Enz “breakup” songs, even light-hearted ones, as songs that actually deal with the Finn/Judd relationship from Tim Finn’s perspective. Though I had picked up on that element of such latter-day Finn solo songs as “More Fool Me”, it’s an eye-opener to consider the possibility that Finn has been writing about one fractious friendship since the mid-1970s. It seems that decades later, he can’t let it go.

Even Chunn’s departure, shortly after Judd’s explosive exit from the band during a disastrous American tour, is a tale of its own. As the band searches desperately for a new guitarist (having lost Judd and, earlier, having alienated original lead guitarist Wally Wilkinson in an attempt to appease Judd’s ego by making him lead guitarist), Chunn innocently suggests Tim Finn’s younger brother Neil as a replacement, even though the younger Finn has virtually no electric guitar experience. Chunn sits back and recounts correspondence and conversations from the remainder of the history of Split Enz, still accurately reporting the history of the band and its members, but this time from a more objective distance.

Long a nearly-impossible-to-find book once its brief time in print was behind it, Stranger Than Fiction has re-emerged as an affordable ebook title, and one well worth your time if you’re a fan invested in the Split Enz story.

Year: 1991
Author: Mike Chunn
Publisher: GP Publications
Pages: 272