The West

Vale free-flowing Niall
Niall Lucy. Picture: Supplied

Niall Lucy was more than a friend to me, he was a fellow creator, and one I admired deeply. His was the best mind of a generation and a mind that lent itself to social causes, with an intensely unselfish and razor-sharp politics of scrutiny in which he held powerbrokers and the socially conservative to task.

Niall was a literary political thinker whose investigations of the media, of the individual in the realm of the public, of the implications and costs that come with language used in the media in particular, led him to groundbreaking investigations of literary texts, music, television and performance. He was a breaker of constraints and tireless activist of the postmodern.

With McKenzie Wark and others, he formed the vanguard of what I would term "the scrutineers" and "bratpack" of brilliance who have revolutionised the way we understand the impact of media, the internet, social media, and "speech" on our lives.

Niall's work on the philosopher Jacques Derrida is unique and will remain of importance as long as Derrida himself is read. Niall was able to articulate and share complex literary theory with practitioners and novices alike, typically impassioned and generous. His love of music and understanding of the motivations behind rock and punk, new wave and alternative, and everything in popular music - inside and outside of it - was known by all his friends, listeners to his segment on ABC radio, readers of album liner-notes, and musos themselves.

A champion of Dave McComb and the Triffids, and numerous other bands, Niall will be missed as one able to interpret and translate the compulsion to make music and its impact on subcultures and broader cultural movements.

Niall was a generous and committed collaborator in research and creative projects. He co-edited and co-wrote works with various writers and thinkers over the years, including Steve Mickler, Chris Coughran and Rob Briggs. I had the good fortune to work on a number of books with Niall.

His far-reaching intellect and incredible creativity took him from editing texts to writing them, for subjects as diverse (and similar in their way) as the bushranger Moondyne Joe and stunning insights into the motivations and complexities of detournement. Niall was a facilitator of other people's creativity, and a generator of creative energy in himself. There are works still in the pipeline that will continue to astonish readers, from a cultural theorist who goes everywhere; a believer in education, liberty and freedom of belief. He would never hesitate to make himself vulnerable in the cause of someone under siege. I know, because he stood up for me at times when it would have been equally brave simply to remain silent. But he wouldn't and couldn't.

I could never have asked for a better friend. More gregarious than I am, when Niall worked out I was something of a hermit he found a way to respect that, and we developed a dynamic that served us well over the years. Funny thing is, my partner Tracy Ryan knew Niall for years before I did, and would often say to me "You've got to meet Niall Lucy, you'd really hit it off". I knew his work and respected it, and knew of his genius, but nothing prepared me for when I first met him at Murdoch University. We walked and talked and walked and talked. It sparked and grew from there.

When he married the wonderful and super-smart Sam Stevenson, I had the good fortune to write and read a poem for their nuptials in Fremantle (though I reckon the best poem of the evening was Niall's sister comedian Judith Lucy's superbly witty speech!).

Now I am writing a poem after his death. An elegy. In swapping emails with him during his last weeks, I said I was working on poems for him: he was a constant in my thoughts and that is the only way I really know how to communicate. Now it's his elegy.

When we were working on the Moondyne Joe book, we'd meet at the Wendouree Tea Rooms in Toodyay, which Niall called "our office". As Toodyay was pivotal to the psyche of Moondyne Joe, we mainly met there. It was a good space to be.

An urban man, Niall enjoyed the drives into the country. He listened to great music on the way up. We talked about the Triffids, Nick Cave, Dom Mariani and my interest in Sonic Youth. And Bon Scott. Niall was a massive fan of Scott's. They were similar in some ways, though Niall would laugh at me for saying so.

But Niall, dressed in black with the best head of hair I've ever seen, was the best frontman in the literary world. He sang his texts brilliantly but with a cool panache. He was witty, sharp, generous and tough if he found something poorly considered or exploitative.

He was no friend of the right-wing demagogues who plague Australian airwaves and would speak out on any injustices as they occurred. He lived and wrote in real-time.

At Niall and Sam's wedding, not only were some of the finest musos from Perth playing, but so were Niall and Sam's kids in their own band. They were stunning and transfixed their audience. Music may well have been Niall's greatest love after his family. He could write about music and about its effects on the world-at- large . . . his prose was exquisite and he was one of those people who could shape an essay as if it were a poem.

So, Niall, farewell, mate. You were professor of critical theory at Curtin University, philosopher, cultural critic and activist, a friend to music, a poet, and a bloody good bloke. Vale.

The West Australian

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