Back in the ‘90s my sister was a PR hound for a bunch of of Australian record labels. She worked in converted car-hold office spaces all over Melbourne and when I was 13 she roped me in to pack CDs for her. Most of those bands and labels don’t exist anymore, but one who stuck it out was Newmarket Music who in 1997 managed to score a pretty mental signee: Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read.
Chopper was in Tasmania’s Risdon Prison at the time for eating his own ears or something, but his incarceration hadn’t dampened his penchant for self expression. Nor could it stop him from recording his first ever EP. Most people wouldn’t have taken the infamous hit man for the musical type, but here Newmarket was with The Smell of Love E.P by Chopper Read and The Blue Flames. His band was actually just him and another guy who wasn’t in prison, Colin Dix, who took care of all the actual music. Which had to be a tough gig.
It’s worth noting that Chopper somehow recorded all the vocals in prison before getting them to Dix. They included reflections about being naked in the communal showers, the mispronunciation of several words and references to a “very un-nice person” who “thoroughly deserves to die.” Trying to review this EP now I’d suggest you bypass actually listening to it and instead just imagine eight songs by a guy hunkered in a prison toilet saying “sex” repeatedly over floor-touch aggro-tech. In this way it’s like anal, better just thought about.
In the middle of this musical shit storm Chopper wrote my sister a letter, which was largely forgotten until his recent public health and professional rap issues brought him back into our line of sight. Em agreed to dig up the letter and relive our brief collision with the musical career of Mark Chopper Reid.
Chopper wrote to my sister in 1997 while she was in the middle of leading The Smell of Love's charge for ARIA Best Contemporary Release domination (yes, the disc had been nominated for one of our nation's top musical honours. Nice one Australia.) She’d asked him to do some promotional stuff for the record, and it was around the time they were setting up to film Chopper. Russell Crowe was in talks for the lead.
My Dear Emma,
I’m off to court today to get my result, whatever that will be. Colin sent me a copy of your letter to him. It is a bit hard for me to do a lot of the stuff you ask at this point in time. As for my name signed on things? Get a texta and forge it. I won’t tell on ya. Limited edition “signed” copies, posters… go for ya life.
Never plead guilty,
Mark Brandon Read
Via con Dios, Amigo,
Mark Brandon Read
After signing off, it must have occurred to Chopper that he had more to talk about, mostly about the movie they were about to make about him.
It’s all bullshit, as we all know, so forge it. Who cares? Haha. When people ask me to sign books, I tell ‘em to sign it themselves and I won’t tell. Please tell your cousin Ben (Mendelsohn) I told [director] Andrew Dominik and [producer] Michele Bennett verbally and in writing – and again in writing to Andrew a few months later – that I wanted Ben Mendelsohn to play the role of [criminal buddy] Dave the Jew, ‘cos Ben has the eyes. Who plays me isn’t as important as who plays the Jew. I heard Ben is in the movie. I hope this is true, as he can play the Jew. Also, Dave hinted strongly at Benny Boy doing it. I’m stuck with that New Zealand sheep-rooter Russell Crowe. Haha, nar, only kidding. Don’t tell him I said that, at least not ‘til after the movie. Tell Benny I said hello. He is Dave and I’s favourite Aussie actor.
Via con dios, amigo,
Mark Brandon Read
Chopper didn’t end up taking home that Aria. But that movie about him did win three AFI awards, Australia’s answer to the Oscars. Maybe there’s a lesson in that, maybe there isn’t. My guess is either way, Chopper doesn’t care.
Follow Toby on Twitter: @jane_tobes