Mick Harvey: On My Culture Radar

Musician on the American author Joan Didion and Alice Coltrane’ ashram music

Current favourite book 

Democracy, by Joan Didion. She's a great American lady of letters, who was highly regarded in intellectual circles in the 1960s and 1970s and recently she's become more mainstream – there's now a documentary about her on Netflix.

I decided I better read her work, and I’ve found I love her writing. This book is set in Hawaii and it has interconnections with CIA – there’s all sorts of weird things going on, and a woman is caught in the middle of it. Didion’s writing is concise, but repetition is a feature. On the back the dust cover for another of her books, Bret Easton Ellis said “This was my favourite American novel for decades”. I thought: exactly. It’s his style, he’s copied so much of her style.

I’m also reading 1491 by Charles C Mann, about pre-Columbus America. It’s incredible and horrifying what European colonists are responsible for.


Little Africa is an Ethiopian restaurant a few minutes’ walk from my house in North Melbourne, and it’s amazing. They’ll have pots of chicken, lamb or vegetables that are laid out on top of injera bread, and you eat it with the bread. There are some excellent restaurants around it but that’s the most unusual and interesting, and it’s a bit of a favourite.



The Australian comedian Shaun Micallef has a show on ABC called Mad as Hell. It's mostly political satire, and it's a great release valve for dealing with these idiot politicians on a daily basis. I think every country should strive to have a good political satire show.


James Johnston, who was in Gallon Drunk, and in the Bad Seeds with me. He's launched his painting career and is leaving music behind, and he's totally enthused by it. His art is partly figurative and a little bit expressionist. It reminds me of James Ensor, the Belgian painter, so it's not wildly modern or innovative, but I love what he's doing.


Alice Coltrane’s The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda. It’s a double album of recordings she made in an ashram. Every now and then I put it on, and it’s nice to listen to. She was a harpist and keyboardist and she was John Coltrane’s wife, but this isn’t jazz. It’s spiritual, chanting music, with variation in what goes on.


Naples in Italy. It’s contentious because a lot of people find it unbearable – the travel writer Paul Theroux hates it, he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It’s chaotic and crazy, and the people in Naples are the worst drivers in the world, but I just love it. They all live as if they know their volcano is about to blow. You can go to Pompeii from there, and the nearby islands like Capri and Ischia are fantastic. That’s ideal in a way: having a city that’s intense and exciting, but you can take a beautiful ferry trip from the bay and go somewhere idyllic and quiet.


There's a lot of actors I like, and historically, James Cagney was not one of them. I always thought he was a bit corny, being from the 1930s and doing the tough guy roles. But I recently watched White Heat and I was amazed about how nuanced he was. He was one of the biggest actors then, and he was way ahead of his time.


Gadgets for me are musical instruments, and the most recent one I’ve used is the Crumar Mojo 61. It’s an Italian organ, with digital pianos. It’s not some whizz-bang, sampler thing – it’s just a beautiful keyboard with brilliant design, and it’s great fun to use.

Social media profile

@chillwildlife on Instagram. They post very rarely, so you only get something once a week, and it's hilarious things from nature, or someone's pet video.


I saw The Night of Counting the Years at the Melbourne Film Festival a couple of years ago, and it’s a masterpiece. It’s an Egyptian film from 1969, and is a simple film in a lot of ways – most of it is filmed in a day for night, weird exposure. It just reminded me how many great things there are out there, that are yet to be discovered from the past.

Waves Of Anzac/The Journey by Mick Harvey is out on April 17th via Mute.