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Doc Neeson


Bernard "Doc" Neeson brought a distinctive, debonair style to the blokey Australian hard-rock scene of the 1970s and '80s. While his band, the Angels, pounded out rudimentary, uptempo rock 'n' roll that owed more to the punky attitude of the Sex Pistols or the Ramones than it did to the cock-rock swagger of AC/DC or the bluesy soul of Cold Chisel, Neeson stalked the stage like Mick Jagger's Antipodean cousin, looking (as the Sydney Morning Herald put it) "like a cross between a 19th-century funeral director and a riverboat gambler" in a dapper suit and a rooster haircut. Just as the Angels' sound betrayed their roots as a '50s-rock cover band that had once backed up Chuck Berry, Neeson's stage moves hinted at his college degree in drama, and he often referred to his onstage persona in the third person (e.g., "Doc was a crazed alien trapped in a cockeyed world"). Perhaps his and the Angels' finest moment was the rousing "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?" Originally written as a tender acoustic ballad mourning the death of a friend, the song was given a very different spirit by Neeson's bug-eyed, snarling vocal, and two generations of Aussie concertgoers learned to chant "No way! Get fucked! Fuck off!" after the chorus, a response that Neeson beamingly described as "Australian audiences making the song their own."


More than two decades of rigorous cross-country touring made the Angels legends in Oz, but their careerlong efforts to become worldwide stars were stymied by naming issues (legal concerns forced them to be billed as Angel City, then as the Angels from Angel City, in the U.S.), record-label indifference, and, at times, their own talent: according to legend, they were once thrown off an American tour with the Kinks for upstaging the headliners. Proceeds from their successful Australian tours often went to either funding future overseas tours or paying off debts incurred during past ones. Though their commercial success in the U.S. was limited, they did win praise from American peers such as Cheap Trick, who often shared concert bills with them in Australia, and Guns N' Roses, who performed the Angels' "Marseilles" in tribute after Neeson's death.


Eventually, years on the road began to wear on the sensitive Neeson. "Doc consumed me," he said. "Bernard isn't here anymore." Giving himself over to his persona took a toll on his health as well as his sanity, and his near-fatal car accident in 1999 prompted the first breakup of the Angels. The 21st century brought him one misfortune after another: drunk-driving arrests, unsuccessful trips to rehab, an Angels reunion ended by band infighting, and finally the brain tumor that killed him.


Doc Neeson died on June 4, prompting a spate of awful jokes about "singing with the angels." He was 67. Allen Kirshner, Gerard Tierney, and Philip get 12 points each (11 for hit + 1 for trio).


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