The loneliness of the long-distance Wiggle
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.