American pop culture evolves weirdly when it leaves its native soil. Consider how rock and roll mutated into chicha or Atari Teenage Riot, or how McDonald’s familiar beef patty and fries have been supplanted in Taiwan by a shrimp burger and corn soup.
So it is with the biker movie. You start with cheapo drive-in fare like The Wild Angels, with its legion of big motorcycles on California highways, ugly rape scene, and made-in-a-day fuzz guitar soundtrack courtesy of Davie Allan; send it south of the equator, and by the time you get to the third Mad Max movie, you have an unrecognizable, bloated extravaganza with gladiators swinging chainsaws while they bounce in yo-yo harnesses, Mel Gibson and Tina Turner trading sweaty poses in the Australian desert to the accompaniment of Maurice Jarre’s pompous orchestration, and barely a motorbike in sight.
Stone, a murder mystery involving a Kawasaki-riding, devil-worshipping band of Vietnam Vets called the Gravediggers that was made by a film crew compelled to live commune-style in a mass method-acting exercise, was Australia’s first biker flick. It was also the first movie that filmmaker Sandy Harbutt directed, the first shared appearance by a cast of actors who subsequently appeared in the first Mad Max movie and still work together on Aussie TV shows, and the first crack that a certain guitarist had at doing something besides play hot licks in a locally celebrated band.
In the early ’70s, Billy Green was part of Doug Parkinson’s In Focus. The invitation to score a movie being made on a shoestring budget by a bunch of unknowns was a chance for him to show what else he could do, and he ran with it. Psychotronic enthusiasts hoping for bad-assed fuzz guitar in the Allan mold will be sorely disappointed; Green was not only very much of his time, he was a man of diverse interests. The first sounds you hear on this soundtrack album, which is liberally expanded from the LP sold in Oz back in the day, is a ghostly female voice wrapped in thick electronics. Then digeridoo and raygun-like synths blast their way in.
They sound like an outback version of Sun Ra, crca My Brother The Wind II. I could listen to a whole album of such stuff, but Greens cast a much wider net, one that pulled in some pearl-bearing oysters and a few clams.
The next track, “Race,” uses ring-modulated piano and jagged guitar shards to evoke two-wheeled gamesmanship, then lapses into tawdry blues-rock heroics. “Cosmic Funeral” is two minutes of off-the-rack tear-jerking strings. “The Death Of Doctor Death,” on the other hand, is a swell Technicolor swirl of strummed autoharp and wordless vocals. Green not only conceived a different theme for each character, he gave them each their own genre. “Pigs” bridges the gap between Joe Meek at his most demented and post-Swordfishtrombones Tom Waits.
“Undertaker” is a mellow electric blues, while “Stone” is hyperactive jazz-rock fusion, the sound of someone trying to beat Jeff Beck at his own game by playing twice as many notes.
And “Septic” is the sort of yee-haw country jig that only a non-American could generate.
The most grueling stretches lay near the end, when Parkinson takes the mic to deliver some grotesquely overwrought strut-rock.
“Cosmic Flash Song”
Stone has become a cinematic touchstone, celebrated at home and abroad for its freaky extremity. Green ultimately left home as well; his evident stylistic restlessness compelled him to move to the U.S. and take up jazz saxophone. Now known as Wil Greenstreet, you can hear him three nights a week on the Empire State Building’s observation deck, but he’s also available for guitar lessons.
By Bill Meyer