Rowland S Howard (the “W” in Rowland and the “S” in the middle were not negotiable) was one of this world’s most ridiculously singular and charismatic individuals. He was himself to the nth degree. He was beautiful, extraordinary, intelligent, funny, wickedly talented, wickedly human, affectionate, warm loving and always entertaining to the precious people in his life. He was as dapper as the devil, at times as shabby as an aristocrat who’d fallen on hard times.
He felt things in a wholly unimpeded way, there were no walls between his heart and his mouth, his skin was thin. When he love he loved with all his heart, soul and mind, he could break hearts and did. He railed and writhed in agony when his own heart was broken. He devoured life and books and films and music and pop culture with a curiosity and zest for new information that was astonishing. He was a popular criminal. He was great and he was flawed, and life tested him again and again, but he arose from times of gloom and adversity to charm and amuse and spark and spin and produce songs and music that came straight from the centre of his being with an honesty and intensity that was bone-deep. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, if at all, yet he was always a gentleman.
His life was 50 years long, different periods of friends, cities, bands. So much happened it would be impossible to cover or do justice to them all. This is a eulogy, not a biography.
I’ll miss his blue eyes, his face, his downturned smirk, his raised eyebrow, his fount of information, his devilish humour, the sound of his voice. His compassion and empathy, his loyalty, his chuckle, his mocking laugh, his huge vocabulary. I’ll miss him telling me exactly what to read and see. I’ll miss his presence, the light he shed on those around him, his music, his singing, his words that made us cry, and watching and hearing him skip and strut and swing that guitar like a screechy demon, wringing the most bone shatteringly beautiful noises out of the ether while he sang his heart out all over the place. It all came from the most profound regions of his soul. It was how he expressed himself.
Through everything Rowland, you were the best friend of my life. I couldn’t have asked for more.
This is an abridged version of McGuckin’s eulogy. Abridged by Trevor Block and published on Mess and Noise Jan 22, 2010.
Rowland met the Boys Next Door at a party somewhere. Nick Cave accused him of being a “poofta”, but Rowland was more than witty enough to deal with that unimaginative missive, and they probably found themselves amusing one another. They are both very funny. Soon they were in direct competition. Rowland’s band, the Young Charlatans, with Ian “Ollie” Olsen sharing vocals, guitar and songwriting, began playing live. They were instantly applauded as a less punky and more arty alternative to the Boys Next Door. People (well, the Melbourne post-punk scene) loved them. It was here Rowland launched the song ‘Shivers’. Written at 16, it will probably make him more money than any other single thing in his career.
“I keep a poker face so well, that even Mother couldn’t tell”
I might say that his mother insisted that she could tell – but what she could tell exactly, I don’t know.
Rowland dressed in tight, mainly black clothes. His hair was short, he wore armbands saying “THE MODEL OF YOUTH” and a badge that said “OCT”, part of a date set he removed from a bank. His white socks alone were enough to get you a beating in the sunny suburbs of Melbourne. Rowland looked so extreme for the time that I don’t think people could visually register him … and so he got away with it.
The Young Charlatans imploded upon Ollie’s unwillingness to share a band. By this time, Rowland’s friendship with Nick, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew and Phill Calvert had grown. The Boys Next Door admired his abilities and saw Rowland as a possible way to help out with their slowish songwriting. So he took that role played by quite a number now: that of friend, helper, collaborator and inspiration to Nicholas Cave. He was assured he could do some singing, so he was happy. The Boys Next Door were transformed overnight. See side One vs side Two of their Door, Door album.
I’ve been asked to comment on Rowland’s Fender Jaguar. Rowland’s first guitar of note was an Ibanez Fyrebird copy. It was a very stylish guitar – used by Phil Manzanera and Brian Jones and Johnny Winter most notably. However, he had always been impressed with an old Fender Jaguar that Ollie Olsen had briefly owned. Rowland found his Jaguar in a shop in the centre of Melbourne. When he asked to see it, he was informed by the shop owner that if he expected him to get it down from the wall, then he would have to buy it. I saw it at his house the next day. My request to have a turn wasn’t overly welcome and I felt like a crippled gorilla as I delicately raised it from its case to place on my knee. It is a post-1966 model (I don’t know the actual age) with “block inlays” and “bound neck”, but I’m really getting nerdy now and it has fuck all to do with the way Rowland “plays” guitar.
This is an extract of a biography Harry Howard wrote recently. Full text here. And published online by Trevor Block and published on Mess and Noise Jan 22, 2010.