Let me state at the outset – I have always had a certain affection for Jeff Duff. His career has always seen him be slightly out of step with the prevailing zeitgeist, and his musical projects and any other occasional activities that have brought him into the limelight have never really ignited any real degree of lasting passion amongst his audience or brought him any effusive critical acclaim. Yet, to give him begrudging admiration, he has persevered and earned his place amongst that small group of Australian national treasures respected for their stubborn individualism and willingness to battle on and chase their dreams.
Having made this declaration, it will come as no surprise then that I was enthusiastic and keen to review Duff’s new autobiography, This Will Explain Everything (Melbourne Books, 2016) and I got stuck into reading it as soon as it was arrived in my eager possession.
It is a beautifully bound tome, and those who understand and appreciate the psychometric power of books would find this a satisfying addition to their library purely due to its shiny gold hard cover and its sleek silver page edging. It looks like something a kleptomaniac would have been unable to resist pilfering from Aladdin’s cave. Beautiful!
However, no matter how desperately I wanted to like this book I found I could not escape the fact that it is such a hard slog to get through. It is erratically sequenced and structured, and written in turgid prose. Fairly soon after you begin to read through Duff’s collected reflections and reminiscences, you begin to get the feeling that this book suffers from the same flaws that much of his musical output has been prone to – it simply fails to realize its ambitions.
Part of the problem, ironically, lies in the author’s defiant determination to be boastfully proud of who he is – one of the traits that, I guess, people have come to admire him for in the first place – which means he is very keen to talk about mundane aspects of his life too often. We hear about his football prowess, his tennis skills and daily minutiae which is at odds with his more ‘outrageous’ public persona, and he is always asserting how good he is at all of these things. His boasting of being ‘the best’, ‘the most promising’, ‘the first’, ‘the originator’ and so on, quickly becomes tiresome and, ultimately, renders the recounting of his life a dull read in far too many sections. Reading his account of his time in Kush, for example, would make an uninitiated reader believe they were one of Australia’s premier concert draws of their time, such is Duff’s inflation of their significance and influence – something even the most eloquent of spin doctors would be hard-pressed to assert given the historical facts!
When he is talking about the more ‘sensational’ aspects of his life – his drug use, the police raids of his shows, his disastrous television performances, his poor timing and out of step career choices – he attempts to make these seem more momentous events than they really ever were. Pictorial evidence of sensationalized press coverage to support these claims often comes from low-key or dubious sources: rural newspapers or from questionable publications such as Melbourne’s ‘The Truth’ news-rag, which was known to regularly beat-up news stories, exaggerate, and often knowingly misrepresent events, purely to be salacious and/or mischievious.
Duff acknowledges his love of David Bowie in many chapters and reflects on how the great man’s death in January this year impacted heavily upon him. This admiration is common knowledge – he has continually toured the country, and the world, performing Bowie tributes and has released a number of albums featuring cover versions of Bowie songs – yet this repetitive focus on his idol only serves to remind us that Duff’s whole career has simply been largely one of mimicry, and therefore probably the reason for his failure to consistently engage a larger fan-base.
Whether reviews of this book are bad or good, it will not overly bother, or prevent, Jeff Duff from keeping on ‘keeping on’ – he is that sort of person, defiantly resilient and able to maintain that benignly positive delusion of his own greatness that we have actually come to love him for, but overall – this book is not a great example of its genre, and will only appeal to the hardest of hardcore Duffo fans out there.
Review: Ken Grady