The lone­li­ness of the long-dis­tance Wig­gle

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - David Free

IS there a job in the world that isn’t con­sid­er­ably less fun than it looks? Be­ing a Wig­gle, you might sup­pose, would be a breeze. Roll out of bed at about 10, slip on the coloured shirt for a mid­day show, min­gle back­stage with some sexy celebrity mums, then spend the re­main­der of the day re­clin­ing in a hot tub full of cash.

An­thony Field, the Blue Wig­gle, has writ­ten a book that un­veils the less glam­orous re­al­ity: the bad ho­tels, the ter­ri­ble food, the back­stage ar­gu­ments — one of them cul­mi­nat­ing in the throw­ing of a toy drum kit — the grim lo­gis­tics of cop­ing with ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome on the road. Field isn’t com­plain­ing, mind you: he keeps stress­ing that the joy of the live shows makes it all worth­while. But he leaves you feel­ing that he and his fel­low Wig­gles have thor­oughly earned their suc­cess.

Field earned his while suf­fer­ing from a di­abol­i­cal ar­ray of health prob­lems that threat­ened, at one stage, to cur­tail his wig­gling for good. He pulled him­self back from the brink thanks to an ex­er­cise and di­etary regime he de­tails in the book’s sec­ond half. But it’s the first half, de­scrib­ing how he got to the brink in the first place, that makes for more com­pelling read­ing.

Field played in Syd­ney band the Cock­roaches as a young­ster. An un­com­fort­able fit as a rock ’ n’ roller, he quit to fin­ish a de­gree in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion. This proved to be a shrewd ca­reer move. Dur­ing his final year at univer­sity, he formed a chil­dren’s group with two other teach­ing stu­dents, Mur­ray Cook and Greg Page, and exCock­roach Jeff Fatt. The Wig­gles were born. (A fifth Wig­gle, Phillip Wilcher, played on their first al­bum but left soon af­ter­wards.)

The group’s early strug­gles were not all that dif­fer­ent from an emerg­ing rock band’s: there were meet­ings with bone­headed ex­ec­u­tives, ef­forts to crack the US mar­ket, gru­elling tour sched­ules. Some­times they played three 90-minute shows a day. Could Keith Richards man­age that?

Prob­a­bly not, if he had to spend two hours in the back­stage toi­let ev­ery time he in­gested some­thing mildly toxic.

Field, dur­ing his dark­est years, was so un­healthy that he made Keef look like Michael Phelps. His prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to his in­com­plete list, in­cluded ‘‘ her­nias, back ail­ments, bro­ken bones, food sen­si­tiv­i­ties, col­i­tis, ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, po­ten­tially fa­tal in­fec­tions, cir­cu­la­tion is­sues, and ex­haus­tion’’.

We need a few words of clar­i­fi­ca­tion here about the Wig­gles’ health is­sues. Field is not the Wig­gle who left the group to deal with a mys­te­ri­ous faint­ing ill­ness. That was the Yel­low Wig­gle, Page, who quit in 2006, and was re­in­stated ear­lier this year, caus­ing his re­place­ment, Sam Mo­ran, to be con­tro­ver­sially stripped of the yel­low shirt. (Field’s book, alas, was com­pleted too early to tackle the Wig­gle­gate im­broglio.)

Nor is Field to be con­fused with the Pur­ple Wig­gle, Fatt, who had a pace­maker in­stalled last year. No, Field is the one who has suf­fered from just about ev­ery­thing else. He is ex­cel­lent at evok­ing what it’s like to live with chronic pain. Fel­low suf­fer­ers will find some of his ob­ser­va­tions scar­ily ac­cu­rate. ‘‘ Pain,’’ he says, ‘‘ be­comes a habit that’s hard to break.’’

Field broke it when he met a holis­tic chi­ro­prac­tor named James Stoxen. In the book’s sec­ond half Field lays out, com­plete with pho­to­graphs, the ex­er­cise rou­tines with which Stoxen helped him morph from an over­weight, pain-racked pill-pop­per into the chis­elled, tat­tooed spec­i­men de­picted on the book’s front cover. (Side­bar ques­tion: now that even the Wig­gles are get­ting tat­toos, can we agree that the tat­too has of­fi­cially lost its bad-boy con­no­ta­tions? Who’s get­ting one next? Kevin Rudd?)

The book, it must be said, does get bogged down ex­plor­ing the Stoxen phi­los­o­phy. Stoxen views the body as a gi­ant spring. He car­ries around a bed­spring in his bag to demon­strate this prin­ci­ple. He be­lieves that the spring is di­vided into seven floors or lev­els. He ab­hors shoes and ad­vo­cates walk­ing around bare­footed when­ever pos­si­ble. He may be right about these things. But his in­to­na­tions do sound, prima fa­cie, like those of many other self­help gu­rus who have gone be­fore him.

Still, his tech­niques have worked for Field. Nor can you ques­tion the gen­uine­ness of Field’s de­sire to spread the word. He knows he sounds like an evan­ge­list but feels the good news must be shared. His fer­vour is con­ta­gious. At one point I se­ri­ously con­sid­ered rustling up a set of witch’s hats (where do you buy a witch’s hat?) and giv­ing his pro­gram a try. I know how his young fans feel. Field has en­thu­si­asm, and that can’t be faked. Some­how he never lost it, no mat­ter how de­bil­i­tat­ing his prob­lems. David Free is a Nsw-based writer and critic.

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