You have rarely read a more personal and revealing biography as this. Lurie is more than a fan of the Church; they obsess him. Written with the cooperation of Kilbey and the rest, he shines a light into all the darkest corners of the enigmatic pop group and shows why--and how--they've survived so long. From the heights of fame to the depths of drug use, The Church has done it all, and Lurie has lovingly--and obsessively--captured it with this long overdue book. Highly recommended. 

Despite an occasional dalliance with the mainstream--notably with the 1988 single "Under the Milky Way"--The Church have remained a cult band with sales to match. Through the pretty jangle of their early singles to the cinematic soundscapes of later works, the Sydney quartet and particularly their frontman--the enigmatic and cantankerous Steve Kilbey, have attracted a certain sort of obsessive fan. By his own admission, Robert Dean Lurie is such a fan.

Flying to Australia to gain unprecedented access to Kilbey and others, Lurie has created a straight biography-cum-travelogue-cum-fan's diary. It should be irksome but is in fact quite charming, and to those who've been there, Lurie's worship laced with frustration is entirely understandable. Perhaps more surpising--but entirely welcome--is his brutal honesty, addressing Kilbey's drug use with candour, cross-matching it with its perceived effect on the band's varied output since their 80s heyday.

Most telling of all, perhaps, is Kilbey's response in the afterword. Quite evidently as vain as any other 'rock star', he's all too aware of the myth he has created but, as the cracks begin to show, he has no intention of replastering them, allowing this unguarded tale to tell it straight.

Given their long and at times very successful career, it is perhaps surprising that iconic Australian band The Church have not previously been the subject of a detailed written history. Perhaps even more surprising, but at the same time reflecting the band’s international standing, is that this first such biography has been written by a thirty-something American who didn’t discover their music until 1988, almost a decade after their inception.

From the outset Lurie freely declares his passion for the music of The Church, but this is most certainly not a sycophantic paean to the band and its founder, principal protagonist and main creative force. Written with Kilbey’s blessing and co-operation (no mean feat given his noted reticence and brusqueness), Lurie has succeeded in providing a generally balanced history of the band, warts and all. He pulls no punches where Kilbey in particular is concerned, while the latter is also disarmingly frank, honest and self-deprecating about his past, although quite rightly he refuses to be drawn on his personal relationships.

After a few chapters summarizing his upbringing and early musical forays, ‘No Certainty Attached’ effectively becomes a biography of Kilbey spliced with a history of The Church. Indeed these two elements become largely interchangeable.
Lurie clearly has a passion for and trainspotter’s knowledge of the music and recorded output of The Church, but what really brings this book to life are the quotes and anecdotes from past and present members as well as many others directly involved with both Kilbey and the band.

To his great credit, Lurie made a pilgrimage to Australia to meet and interview Kilbey and others personally and to get a feel for the environment that helped shaped both musician and band. And there are certainly a few who are very keen to sink the boots in. Original drummer Nic Ward in particular still seems to harbour much resentment.

The Church have seen their share of peaks and troughs, both critically and commercially, all of which Lurie describes objectively and insightfully. There are the usual tales of record company and managerial incompetence but it is fair to say that the band were often their own worst enemies with naivety, poor judgement, substance abuse and sheer bloody-mindedness all playing their part. Kilbey’s own descent into the maelstrom of heroin addiction is particularly harrowing.

Creatively prolific, there is much more to Kilbey than just The Church and Lurie also takes the time to explore the other, lesser-known projects and activities, including his writing career, solo albums and his many and varied musical collaborations.

There are plenty of archival photos and probably the only thing missing from this otherwise impressively thorough piece of work is a discography. While Lurie occasionally gets carried away with hyperbole when describing his favourite songs and albums, he generally writes in a concise, conversational style that makes the book an easy, enjoyable read.

Fans of The Church will find this fascinating, but ‘No Certainty Attached’ will also appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in Australian music.

 

NO CERTAINTY ATTACHED: STEVE KILBEY AND THE CHURCH – Robert Dean Lurie (Verse Chorus Press)
Notoriously complex leader of veteran guitar-chitects gets dissected by number-one fan

Sometimes when this place gets kinda empty ... OK, just for the record I’m not going to cite the second line of Under The Milky Way. What I’m saying is you might feel inclined to (a) read an engrossing, detailed rock biography and/or (b) put on an accompanying record by the said artist/band. In the case of No Certainty Attached, option (b) is practically self-inviting as the book brims with everything one could ask from legendary Sydneysiders The Church and their charismatic leader Steve Kilbey – song trivia, live history, warts-and-all drug stories, etc...

Fittingly, geekage abounds. College-dorky from the offset it may be – Minnesota-born author Robert Dean Lurie, a musician in his own right, is one of the diehard admirers who had an epiphany at a Church concert – yet for all its studiousness, No Certainty Attached never succumbs to slack-jawed sycophantism, instead painting the oft-cryptic "old Steve" in human colours. Primarily chronicling Kilbey’s life and musical evolution from early years to present day – with heavy emphasis on his vehicle’s ‘80s output – the book also sheds light on the main protagonist’s complex romantic/creative relationships and lengthy heroin dalliance. An unquestionably challenging character ("Listen, Lurie," he growls at the author at one point. "The only reason I’m even talking to you is because I know you aren’t a fucking yes man. So don’t start being one now, just because I’m cooperating!"), the frontman reluctantly shares his own universe with his ever-passionate vis-à-vis.

Kilbey’s not the sole focus of the book, though. Apart from numerous paeans to Peter Koppes’ and Marty Willson-Piper’s guitar wizardry, Lurie gives plenty of space to the band’s past drummers Nic Ward (a great yarn-teller and a tough, no- bullshit type who ended up being ostracised soon after Willson-Piper’s inclusion) and Richard ‘Ploogsy’ Ploog (who replaced Ward and stayed in the line-up through the ‘80s before quitting in 1990 due to ‘alienation’), as well as virtually every side project, artistic collaboration and prominent band link. A compelling, thoroughly engaging read.

We Can Be Heroes