You Am I is the longest love affair I have ever had

With You Am I in the midst of a retrospective tour around the country, A.H. CAYLEY reflects on her ongoing love affair with ‘Hourly, Daily’ and ‘Hi Fi Way’.

I once wrote that You Am I is the longest and most passionate love affair I have ever had. Five loves later, and that still holds true. I’ve grown with this band’s albums, and I continue to. They’ve shaped me. Songs I spent my teenage years with – lyrics that have always made perfect sense – will take on a crystal clarity with each new experience; a line that I’d once just thought brilliant will suddenly, with a new disappointment or excitement, a new lesson learnt, become truth.

It’s the sign of a special writer when it feels like they’ve written just for you. That’s Tim Rogers for me. No one, not one of the artists in which I shroud my identity, has ever plucked a heartstring or offered a kick to the guts quite so resolutely. No one has ever made me feel so understood. Perhaps it’s the sickness of the brain it turns out we both share – perhaps it’s purely a diagnostic coincidence of anxiety and highs and lows – but it’s real, and it’s special, and it’s mine. But I’m no fool. I know I’m not the only one.

Of the back catalogue, it’s these two albums that usually mean the most. There’s a hushed reverence among fans when discussing Hi Fi Way or Hourly, Daily: I felt it, did you feel it too? A mutual recognition that every lyric, every riff, every drum fill or bassline is Significant. Important. And then the argument begins. Which is the best? Which plucked your heartstrings and kicked you in the guts the most? Which was written just for you? For a time, just to be a shit, I would instead answer #4 Record, a fucking corker, sadly underrated, and the first You Am I album I ever heard. I borrowed it from Wollongong Library when I was 14 years old, with the Radio Settee bonus disc that has that awesome live version of ‘Trike’ on it. I sometimes waver (sometimes Convicts or #4 for the ups, sometimes Sound as Ever or Dilettantes for the downs) but really, it will always be Hourly, Daily.

You Am I circa Hourly, Daily

Generally, it’s those who were there at the time that disagree; those who followed the band up and down the New South Wales coast in their formative gig-going years. I was five years old when Hi Fi Way was released. I’d always supposed, with all the brash self-importance of youth, that this separation gave me a clearer, more balanced insight into You Am I’s early discography, able to judge these albums without the bias of setting. If some young punk dares to say that to me about Royal Headache in 20 years time, I’ll probably stab them.

Hi Fi Way presents a band sealing the deal and taking it further. It’s an effortlessly triumphant second album; none of that “difficult” discourse here. For those there at the time, it was the sound of Their Band growing without abandoning them; proving they had more in them, that the love wasn’t misplaced. It’s gloriously riff-heavy but it signifies Rogers maturing as a songwriter, moving on from the rawness of Sound As Ever without forgoing its spirit. It was the first album with drummer Rusty Hopkinson, and solidified the lineup (augmented these days, since 1999, by second guitarist Davey Lane).

And those songs! ‘Ain’t Gone and Open’. ‘Cathy’s Clown’. That brutal guitar sound on ‘Jewels and Bullets’, as Hopkinson and bassist Andy Kent thunder away beneath Rogers’ upfront angst – or on ‘Stray’! Or ‘Punkarella’! Or ‘Ken (The Mother Nature’s Son)’! A bloody rhythm section powerhouse! There’s the beautiful, sunset melancholy of ‘Purple Sneakers’, almost optimistic in its resignation. You can feel the cool evening air, you can see the water lapping against the feet of the “Glebe Point Bridge”. The loping, archival ‘Pizza Guy’. The unrepentant joy of ‘The Applecross Wing Commander’, waiting “all summer just to piss on your lawn”. The sighing admissions of compulsion in ‘Handwasher’. ‘How Much Is Enough?’ – God only knows how many broken hearts that song has been a salve for.

Hi Fi Way captured the spirit of a time and a place; Hourly, Daily is a time and a place, captured forever. It’s about a city, but in particular it’s about this city. Hourly, Daily is a portrait of life in inner-Sydney – the grit, the humidity, the traffic. The rush of the main roads, the shadows in the backstreets, the tales lurking behind each historic terrace wall. Someone I used to know once said that Hourly, Daily is the perfect soundtrack of the Inner West; that the only thing missing was the sound of the planes roaring overhead. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t think of that line first. (Perhaps they’d learnt their lesson, though – that naff fucken fighter jet sound that punctuates ‘The Applecross Wing Commander’ comes too close to ruining it.)

Hourly, Daily is a masterpiece of both songwriting and execution. A loose concept album covering – depending on interpretation – a day or a week in the inner suburbs, it’s the moment the band truly came into their own. It’s a thorough exploration of influences (The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Birds, The Pretty Things, whose 1968 LP SF Sorrow is widely regarded as the first rock concept album. I’ve always wondered how much of a nod the title of ‘Good Mornin’’ actually is) but it doesn’t compromise their sound or integrity. It builds upon it.

Hi Fi Way captured the spirit of a time and a place; Hourly, Daily is a time and a place, captured forever.”

It’s remarkable. Who could open an album with a four-and-a-half minute ballad from the perspective of a skinhead’s worrying mother (‘Hourly, Daily’), and pull it off? And still, how is that one of the most touching songs in the annals of Australian songwriting? What heavy rock band would release a song about working class desperation with nothing but a lush, aching string ensemble as accompaniment (‘Heavy Comfort’)? Who would pen a love song about a fucken milkman, wrapped up in dairy analogies and pop thrusting (‘Mr Milk’)? How do the heartbreakers and the thuggish balltearers and the poncy struts come together so well? And yet it seems impossible to think any element of it wasn’t intentional, carefully handpainted.

There is no better representation of anxiety than ‘Tuesday’s hopeless shut-in. Dark room, blinds closed, sound the only part of the outside allowed in. “I could do a lot more with my time/ But you should hear what’s goin’ on outside.” Right in the ribcage. What more apt depiction of suburbia is there than the council’s whims in ‘Soldiers’? Who hasn’t clutched at the door handle, white-knuckled, as a cabdriver with all the zeal of ‘Flagfall $1.80’ (that figure a rare ageing aspect of the album) coursed maniacally through the backroads? That song makes me fear for my life, but Jesus Christ it’s a fun death.

‘Please Don’t Ask Me To Smile’ gets me every time. An ex, who had sorted through his own problems, once asked me if I was happy yet. I wasn’t. It wasn’t about him at all, but it still must have been such an insult. I refused to give him what he thought would make things right. ‘Who Takes Who Home?’, all handclaps and harmonies, is the most nuanced, yearning summation of the end of night ritual I’ve ever heard: “And eyes roam/For who takes who home/As the rain’s coming down/ to Friday night/Don’t let me down, again.” And then it ends with the lonely sound of the last train home – clunk clunk, squeak, clunk clunk, squeak, because nowhere in the Inner West is ever that far from a train line – and you know she has.

I’m always floored by Rogers’ capacity for empathy with the characters he creates and inhabits, particularly his ability to write women. It’s right there in these songs; he gets it. I’ve tried to get it together, desperate for a forever with those who saw me only as a “might as well”; I’ve looked for his heart while he stared the other way. I’ve got well shickered, my coloured knickers just for the mirror now. I’ve dug a hundred holes and burrows to avoid trubble, waiting for a way out to arise. Not telling him where I went, nightly.

That’s why these albums are so identifiable, so relatable, and that’s why we who love them feel such an intense sense of ownership and intimacy. There are no delusions of grandeur here. They detail romance and pain and loathing and frustration and joy in the everyday, and it’s an everyday so many of us can latch on to, because we recognise it as our own.

On first moving to Sydney, barely 18 years old, my bus service from Forest Lodge into the city was ‘If We Can’t Get It Together’s 470 to Circular Quay. I caught that bus for 11 months and it never got old. From the front door of my old home in Glebe, where I spent the majority of this adult life, I could see the flags waving gently atop the ANZAC Bridge. It was always the Glebe Point Bridge to me, and it always will be. A couple of summers ago, when two good friends lost their jobs in the early afternoon and turned up at my flat high on acid, we grabbed a bottle and sat on a softly swaying pontoon beneath it until the sun went down. Personality pills and something red to swill. ‘Purple Sneakers’ was stuck in my head for days.

A few weekends ago, in my new home, on the border of Newtown and Enmore, where I think for the first time I may have found contentment, perhaps even happiness, I scrambled through my housemate’s window and out onto the corrugated iron roof. The sun was still bright but beginning its descent, and I looked over the rooftops and the disused chimneys and the trees and the powerlines as my Inner West recreated, just for me, that classic cover. I blasted Hi Fi Way then Hourly, Daily, paralysed by my own expectation, wondering how I could ever put into words these two albums that feel like a part of my soul.

As ‘Tuesday’ started, a plane roared overheard. It was perfect, and I knew that I was home.


You Am I tour dates:

Wednesday, July 3 – Forum Theatre, Melbourne

Thursday, July 4 – Forum Theatre, Melbourne Sold Out

Saturday, July 6 – Forum Theatre, Melbourne Sold Out

Sunday, July 7 – Forum Theatre, Melbourne

Friday, July 12 – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide

Saturday, July 13 – Astor Theatre, Perth Sold Out

Sunday, July 14 – Astor Theatre, Perth

Friday, July 19 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney Sold Out

Saturday, July 20 – UC Refectory, Canberra

Thursday, August 1 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Friday, August 2 – Panthers, Newcastle

Saturday, August 3 – Waves, Wollongong

Friday, August 9 – Darwin Festival, Amphitheatre

Saturday, August 10 – Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns

Sunday, August 11- Mackay Entertainment Centre, Mackay