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Chasing the Dragon: The Life and Death of Marc Hunter

Read The Daily Telegraphs extract >

Release Date:

Jan 2012

For Chasing the Dragon: The Life of Marc Hunter, out through Hardie Grant, I spoke with dozens of Marc's friends, foes, family, lovers and peers, and spent some time at his former home in New Zealand with Marc's mother Voi, trying to bring together the many pieces of his life. It was one of the most compelling and heartbreaking writing journeys I've ever undertaken.

You can read an extract here. I'm talking with Red Symons about the book here.

Time Out said it was a 'compelling story' while the Qantas mag called it a 'cautionary fable, a nicely researched dissection of a true Australasian rock star.' Click to listen to a podcast with Territory FM and here for a discussion with Greg Cary at 4BC. And I was recently 'sitting in a bar in Adelaide' talking about the book. (It's a radio show, OK? And a good one.)

You can also watch a YouTube interview with me about Chasing the Dragon, courtesy of Berkelouw Books Newtown. Here I'm in conversation with ABC Alice Springs. This is the West Australian's review of the book and this is from The Age.

The following is a sketch of Marc's life and career that forms the heart and soul of the book. Click on the various links to watch videos of Marc and the band in action:

As the highly visible and charismatic lead singer of the band Dragon, Marc Hunter was the voice behind such timeless hits as 'April Sun in Cuba''Are You Old Enough?' and 'Rain'. Hunter was also a maverick, who once derailed an entire American tour by calling a Texan audience 'faggots', and whose toxic lifestyle led to a turbulent relationship with his bandmates, including his older brother, Todd. His fast living also contributed to his early death, aged just 44, in 1998, from throat cancer.

Born in Taumarunui, New Zealand, in 1953, Marc, along with Todd and their fellow Dragons, was one of the first Kiwis to 'jump the ditch' to Australia, shifting base to Sydney in 1975. Smart, sexy and bursting with quality tunes, they fast became one of the most successful bands of the Countdown era, but not before enduring the overdose death of drummer, Neil Storey, in 1976 (the same fate befell keyboardist / songwriter / wrestling nut Paul Hewson in 1985). Marc and the band developed a reputation for both hard rocking and hard living. So much so, in fact, that in the wake of his Texan outburst, he was fired from the very band that he'd help transform into a hit-making machine, who'd command $30,000 per show and whose records sold in huge numbers. Marc's relationships with his many female partners were just as turbulent: a former paramour watched in horror as he diverted a cab to his dealer's house, where he overdosed and emerged some 20 minutes later, having been 'Narcained' back to life.

Friends and lovers compared him to Jack Nicholson, Peter O'Toole, Jim Morrison, even Beatle John Lennon. Marc had this to say: 'I may be louche but I'm never lousy.'

'Marc was the real deal,' said Ed St John, who first encountered Hunter on assignment for Rolling Stone in the mid 1970s, Hunter casually crushing Mandrax tablets into powder as they spoke. 'Scary, sexy, threatening, deeply intelligent - and really, on occasion, a perfectly charming fellow. But, man, he had a tongue like a viper.' Marc could see right through the facade that was the pop life. Sometimes he'd challenge journalists to admit what they really thought of the band's music.

'It's not that great, is it?' he'd ask, always pushing for the truth, spoiling for a fight. As a solo act Marc had some success, including the song 'Island Nights'. Eventually Dragon reformed, ostensibly to pay off debts, but they returned to the charts with the memorable 'Rain', a No 2 hit in 1983. There'd be several more hits, splits and reformations over the following years, but the band never quite achieved what Marc once promised to his bandmate, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.

'We're going to be the biggest band in the world, Thomaso,' Marc told him, 'and we're gonna get a Grammy. You'll be walking the red carpet right alongside me.''

Marc was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer in 1997.

In February 1998, the Renee Geyer-organised gig, 'The Night of the Hunter', took place at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda, with such true believers as Tex Perkins, Geyer and John Farnham performing Dragon songs. Geyer led Marc on stage to join in the finale of 'April Sun in Cuba', which was the last time he appeared in public. A subsequent benefit, called 'Good Vibrations', was held in Sydney.

By this time, however, Hunter was at a secluded South Korean mountain temple, seeking alternative treatments for his cancer. He died in a NSW country hospital on July 17, 1998, aged 44, surrounded by family, friends and chanting monks, leaving behind his wife, five children, a legacy of timeless songs and a wild-man reputation that seemed even larger than the short, fast life that he led.

'He had it all,' his friend, Australian Crawl singer James Reyne, told me, 'the heroin chic before it was chic. He had the scars, he had the swagger, an incredible stage presence. He was a really intelligent, funny, talented man who enjoyed life and thought it was there to be enjoyed. He chose to take big bites.'

As Tommy Emmanuel noted after his death, 'Marc Hunter was a person who was never predictable, never boring and when he sang from his heart, there was no one who had a tone and sincerity like him. He was a caged animal, a spoiled child, an uncontrollable monster and yet, at times, as soft and caring as a person could be. Kind, gregarious, and cruel.'

Now with Mark Williams as singer, and an ARIA Hall of Fame inception in 2008, Dragon continue to tour and play the songs that the Hunters brought so vividly to life, music that will forever be linked with the remarkable Marc Hunter.

Note: Since Chasing the Dragon was published, a lot of people have been in touch trying to find a copy. It's proved to be pretty elusive. I'm currently (as of late 2016) trying to arrange to have more copies of the book available. Please drop me a line (via the contact page) if you're keen to buy Chasing the Dragon and I'll keep you advised.