So, here’s a simple concept – Greg Johnson goes for a wander at Piha, while the girl of his dreams lounges about the house. Well, let’s just hope he doesn’t go tracking sand in the house when he comes home.
“I’ve been exploring your mind,” sings Greg. “I found giant rivers, mountain ranges never climbed.” This is accompanied by Greg walking alongside a piddly little beachside creek. But hey, if the giant rivers are imaginary, the ones in his actual environment don’t need to be Amazonian.
Greg’s beach scenes are shot in sepiatone, with a sense of it being deliberately scratchy old film. But back in the house, things are a little brighter.
The footage of the lady in the house is shot like a nostaglic, dreamy Instagram-style filter. She sits around, smiling at the camera. Sometimes she’s rolling around in bed, other times she’s curled up in a corner. Do we assume this is home video shot by the song’s narrator? Or has a rogue hipster film-maker snuck in while Greg is out?
There is a third party to this saga: the guitarist. Sometimes when Greg’s out walking, we also see a guitarist. Most of the time he’s up in the dunes, like a wandering minstrel who’s just happened to enter Greg’s world.
By the end of the video, there’s a lot of split screen, showing Greg, the girl and the guitarist. But the best thing about the video is that it ends with one of those amazing west coast sunsets, with the wet black sand reflecting the golden light. No wonder Greg went for a walk.
Best bit: the person who does a cartwheel on the beach. Yay!
Greg Johnson takes a further step away from the straight folky video of “Isabelle” and introduces a popular video theme of the ’90s – freaky friends. But being a gentle acoustic folk-pop song, it’s a classier version of the usual leather and latex scenario.
We find Greg lying on his canopy deathbed, surrounded by his nearest and dearest. He’s so poorly that he starts to imagine a curious collection of people. There’s an elegant angel, played by Tandi Wright who was just months away from becoming known as the trouble Caroline on “Shortland Street”.
And model Colin Mathura-Jeffree can be spotted along with a geisha, a strongman, a corseted lady and a blue-painted person. These were the innocent days; the days before he had a flavour of gourmet ice cream named after him. It’s a strange side effect. Almost 20 years later these supporting players in the video suddenly stand out as celebrity cameos.
While the bedside anguish goes on, Greg has a flashback in the form of a home movie. We’re off to the seaside with a small boy and his mum, a free-spirited, dreadlocked lady. I assume that Greg is the person filming the outing, the recipient of loving states from the woman and the boy.
Back on the bed, there is still great sadness. When even a fabulous geisha can’t cure all ills, you know it’s bad news.
Best bit: child Greg’s hipster-style pencilled-on moustache.
“Talk in this Town” was the follow-up single to Greg’s debut song “Isabelle”. It has a similar folky sound, but with a more upbeat theme. It’s all about gossipmongers, a not uncommon subject in the world of pop.
The video opens with an introduction of the band – it is, after all, the Greg Johnson Set. They’re sitting around in a picturesque old building and it’s the early ’90s so everyone has statement hair. The guitarist has long golden flowing locks so it’s no wonder the director has made a feature of it. Greg bursts into the frame and he’s wearing a hat, perhaps aware that he can’t match his band’s hair action.
Just when this sedate portrait of musos threatens to get a little boring, the video throws in some drama in the form of gossipmongers. Shot in cold blue light, some women and men wearing dramatic make-up whisper, bitch and gossip with exaggerated facial expressions. Things even get a bit surreal with images of eyeballs and mouths, and eyeballs in mouths. It’s a good contrast, taking what could have been a very nice video and giving it a bit of an edge. There’s more to Greg Johnson than mandolins and folk-pop.
Things get even further from the ordinary with the appearance of a young women in a crucifix pose, wearing only body paint and a crown of thorns. A saintly aura radiates from her head. She suffers for the sins of all the gossipers.
As I’ve discovered, Greg Johnson’s videos did get edgier as his music career progressed, perhaps showing that he wasn’t afraid to take his videos in directions that the songs didn’t always suggest.
Best bit: the little girl doing a twirl in front of the band. I bet she’s the biggest gossip of them all.
Finally the video clouds have come, the online content rains have fallen, the Greg Johnson drought has broken! NZ On Screen have a sparkling copy of sweet “Don’t Wait Another Day”. Greg Johnson describes this video as the most beautiful clip he’s made, giving credit to director James Holt and it being shot on 35mm film.
Boh Runga returns on backing vocals – perhaps her crunchy, grungy vocals in Stellar were a direct attempt to not sound like Greg Johnson’s backing singer.
Greg, Boh and the other members of the Johnson musical whanau are scattered in a large room, bathed in a golden light. This is also the first appearance of Greg’s hairline-obscuring beret, a hep toupee.
Enacting the lyrical story, a young woman packs her bags, leaves her lover, and drives off in a vintage car. What awaits her at the end of her drive? She seems to crouch down in a ball, perhaps wondering if her lover will listen to to his Greg Johnson CD and come after her.
After waiting so long for a Greg Johnson video, it’s nice to finally have such a visually lush one.
Best bit: the artistic fruit bowl, on which a monarch butterfly lands.
There are 22 videos missing from 1992, the most enticing being “Licence to Love” by metal band Scarf who had just come along just as the rawness of grunge was pushing out the extravagance of hair metal. Continue reading Missing videos from 1992
Inspired by the impact of the conflict from the Croatian War of Independence upon the ordinary people of Croatia, “Isabelle” was Greg Johnson’s attempt at connecting with the country on the other side of the world while he was “stuck on an island”.
The video does a good job of creating a landscape that might be New Zealand or might be Croatia. Though if, as Greg sings, Isabelle comes from the modern metropolis of Zagreb, what’s she doing living in a little Borat-style shack in the woods? And the more we see of the woods, they more they look like New Zealand. Perhaps Greg’s longing is starting to transform downtown Zagreb into a New Zealand national park.
Isabelle is played by Gina From Shortland Street, who wears black and looks mournful because all her people, they are dying. Greg, meanwhile, is wearing a waistcoat with a skivvie (for it is the ’90s) and occasionally pops up with his mandolin to make everything better.
Best bit: Isabelle’s numb reaction to seeing a crashed military vehicle with injured passengers.