Touchstones is More Than Meets the Sideline Eye
What started out as a book chronicling the movements of the world’s most-travelled Rugby League and Rock ‘n’ Roll reporter, Touchstones has turned out to be an astonishing journey of self-discovery for renowned journalist Steve Mascord…or should we say Andrew John Langley.
Steve always knew he was adopted by a family from the Illawarra and found solace in the games of Rugby League he covered, and the gigs he saw all around the world. It led him to a life of owning a storage room filled with CDs and copies of Rugby League Week, leaving him unmarried, no assets of any significance and with a $50,000 debt on his credit card.
But when he found out during the writing of this book that he was actually a man who started life named Andrew John Langley, a child whose mother was forced to give him up after suffering from a mental breakdown, Steve used his alternative life to examine the life he has lived over the past 48 years, and what things may have been like if he had never been removed from his original family.
Steve is known as the Travelling Wilbury of Rugby League and the music media industry, working for a multitude of media outlets in the both Australia and England, covering the sport and gigs all over the globe. From Sydney to Slovenia, from Leeds to Latvia, Steve has covered Rugby League and concerts literally everywhere.
He tries to fit in as many gigs as he can in between games, fuelling his love of music with his obsession for Rugby League.
So he decided to write a book about his travels watching a game and a gig every week for 52 weeks.
But it became so much more than that, with Andrew John Langley almost critiquing Steve Mascord, his thoughts and his movements as each chapter passes.
What drove Steve to write such a unique book?
“I’m just like half the people in the population who have mates say to them: ‘Oh you should write a book. You’ve got a book in you.’,” Steve told Rabbitohs.com.au.
“So about eight, nine, ten years ago I started writing one randomly and then it just got shelved. Then I had another go and it was slightly different, and it just got shelved. So towards the end of 2014 I thought if I’m going to finish this then I’m going to have to insert things into the whole structure that makes me finish it.
“So the first thing I did was source crowd funding which meant I owed people something, a product. So then I said I’m going to go to a gig and a game each week for 52 weeks.
“As you can imagine I had thousands of words just sitting there, formless, and this is just a factor of getting it out.
“In late 2014, the first idea I had was I went to the third Test between England and New Zealand in Wigan and I was staying in a hotel the night before and I had CNN on and the terrorist attacks happened, and they tried to get into a stadium. Obviously it was shocking what happened at the Queens of the Stone Age thing.
“To me it was really horrific and I imagined being there and I’m like: ‘What is it about these things? Why were they targeted? Do they represent something? What do they represent in our society and why would they behave like that?’
“So that was the narrative that tied me in so I could start. In the end that wasn’t enough for me to hang 80,000 words on.
“I also found experts like to be paid to be quoted in books. If you send an email to an expert they don’t get back to you unless there’s some cash. So then I started to go to more what it meant to me and trying to decipher what it meant to me.
“But the real kicker in allowing it to take shape was finding out about my background.
“I’m 48 now and for 42 years I knew absolutely nothing about my background. I knew I was adopted and I knew nothing about my family and stuff like that.
“I’d always defined myself as the whole Rugby League thing. I saw myself that way and it’s how I met a lot of my friends, and the music thing as well to a lesser extent because I didn’t really turn it into a career, but that is who I was and that was my sense of identity and I think that’s what I sought when I got into those things.
“But then I found out I was from a bohemian north shore family, a Macquarie Street doctor, 1920’s socialite, a former VFL premiership-winning captain, Order of Australia medals, all sorts of stuff and I realised that all of the things that I think define me would not have been so if I’d stayed in that family from the beginning.
“In all likelihood I would not be into these things. I probably wouldn’t like Jazz. I’d probably be into Indie Rock and the Swans. This is who Andrew John Langley could have been, rather than the path Steve Mascord has taken.
“I thought: ‘I’ve tied my entire identity to these things so who am I if I’m not that person? What do these things really mean to me if they’re not who I am.’
“So I was already along the journey, I’d set myself the structure of what I was going to do for the year when I came around to question these things.
“It actually wasn’t until right near the end, the book was in, and I thought the two publishers had an idea of what it was, they thought some of it was funny or interesting or clever or insightful, but I didn’t think they understood what I understood it to be.
“So I wrote a 700 word précis of what I wanted the book to be. If it was a movie this would be the blurb. And then I filled in the gaps in the manuscript so it followed that narrative. It was really an organic thing.
“When I write a column or a feature I don’t know how it’s going to end. It kind of takes care of itself. Even if I sit down to write Discord (his column in the Sydney Morning Herald), I need an idea for the first two or three paragraphs and then after that it just takes on a life of its own, and this was kind of the same.
“I just sat down and wrote…twice…and stopped…and didn’t have anything when I was finished. So this time I did the same thing, I sat down and wrote, but this time I had to finish because people had already given me money, I had a book deal, and the structure the 52 games gave me pushed me to continue.
“In the end though, they could have been central to the whole book if I hadn’t stumbled across this other narrative, but in the end they’re just a sidelight.
“Passion is an overused word so it loses a bit of meaning. If I had just been left with a book about my two passions then I would be disappointed with myself. But it could have ended up just like that.”
So what is this book about? Is it a Rugby League book, a Music tome, a travel guide, or a biography of a man who discovers he could have been, or even perhaps would have been, a whole different person with no interest in Rugby League or Rock ‘n’ Roll music?
“When they put it in the bookstores and they put it in the biography section, it is so organic, that (book publisher) Geoff (Armstrong) and I were like: ‘Oh I didn’t think they were going to put it there.’
“The touchstones for Touchstones were Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman who’s an American pop culture and entertainment reporter who used to write the entertainment column for the Fargo local paper, growing up with heavy metal, but because he’s clever he was able to throw up triggers that if you’re into that it would give you things from your past to relate to.
“I wanted people to be reminded of things in their own lives that they had maybe forgotten or had never really been reported seriously, things they didn’t think anyone even remembered. That’s happened.
“The other thing about it was I wanted it to work on a few different levels, so if you just want a travel memoir with a few gigs and games in there then it is that.
“If you want a bit of opinion and criticism then it is that.
“And if you want a deeper contemplation and something that makes you think, then it is that as well.
“I didn’t intend to write a memoir.
“The first half of the book is all asking questions. ‘What is this? Why is this like that? Why do people do that?’ Then I got half way through it and I thought I’ve got to start answering some of these questions.
“So I started interviewing people and I went and saw Vivian Campbell from Def Leppard to talk about fame and stuff like that and I thought: ‘Wow I’m really onto something here. I’m starting to answer the questions.’
“And at the start of the book Geoff said to me: ‘Look I love you like a brother, but you’re not that big a deal. It can’t be about you.
“And I’m like: ‘That’s fine.’
“So I said I’ve got this really good interview and he said some really good stuff and Geoff said: ‘Don’t do too many of them, it needs more of you.’
“That’s what he said half way through the book because he obviously thought…people were saying why would I want to read a book about a guy who runs up and down the sideline for Triple M and I think Geoff started off like that too and I’m not that sort of person.
“I wouldn’t assume that people are interested in my life, but half way through it took on a bit of a life of its own and Geoff went from not too much of you to more of you.
“Other people can judge whether the balance is right there. I haven’t had the self-indulgent accusation just yet but I’m sure it will come from someone somewhere.”
So what sort of feedback has Steve had regarding his first published book, and how has his ‘new’ family reacted?
“I don’t know many of my new-found family,” Steve said.
“The main guy I met was my uncle John and I learnt a lot about my family from him, but he passed away last year.
“My sister Tammy, I think she’s waiting for a free copy!
“I posted one to my biological sister Stephanie but I haven’t heard from her. So I haven’t had any reaction at all from family.
“I’m getting a lot of reaction from middle-aged blokes saying: ‘I thought it was only me.’ I’m surprised at how many people are saying: ‘I see myself in there.’
“A fellow I know in Australia said he’s actually been living a parallel life. He went to London just for the terrible game a few years back between England and New Zealand. It was one of the most terrible games I’ve seen in my life, and he went to London just for that and he travels long distances for gigs and so I’m getting a lot of heartfelt feedback.
“A guy sent me a link to a radio interview where they talked about an obsession with Rugby League and the link with being adopted, and having a sense of belonging that it gave him as a kid. I guess people like that will come out of the woodwork as well.
“The thing is I’ve been told by people over the past couple of days that you have to go on Triple M and get it out there, and I said if Ben Hornby wrote Fever Pitch instead of Nick Hornby it would have sold much better in the first three months because every Dragons fan and Rugby League fan would have bought it, but then the very same book would have sunk without a trace.
“Now I’m not saying my book is even in the same stratosphere as Fever Pitch, but what I’m saying is that sometimes I think having a built in market got the book published and it’s got the first few hundred books sold, but it’s also resulted in it being lost because it’s a footy book and he’s that footy bloke.
“Even if the people who don’t know footy and don’t know me are interested, I’d like to give them the chance to decide and see it.
“It’s not just a footy book, I wrote it as a first time author trying to find a voice, not as the Sydney Morning Herald columnist writing a Rugby League book.
“If you read it there is a full chapter in there on what is Rugby League? There’s a chapter explaining what Rugby League is and there’s a chapter explaining the music and why it appeals to me.
“I’m hoping someone out there actually learns from both of those chapters because they may not know about either and I hope the narrative itself is interesting enough.
“Even if you’re reading all of these names and places that you’ve never heard of and you’ve never had an interest in that you’ll still have a reason to keep turning the page.”
Steve has a strong connection with the South Sydney Rabbitohs and it’s not just because he has been reporting on the club for nearly three decades.
He has a strong tie to Rabbitohs General Manager of Football, Shane Richardson, a friendship which stretches back 25 years.
“I first met Shane before he came down to Cronulla,” Steve explained.
“I’d been to New Guinea with Steve Gray on an Australian tour so it would have been 1992 and we were at the Brekky Creek Hotel.
“They came to the pub and I was having a drink with Steve and the next year ‘Richo’ and Johnny Lang were coming down here to Sydney and they told us at the pub.
“They said: ‘It’s a secret, you can’t tell anyone. The whole deal will be off.’
“So I said: ‘Ok, I won’t tell anyone,’ which seemed obvious to me.
“So I actually became friends with Shane by not being distrustful! There was nothing good that I did, it was just something I wasn’t.
“We’ve been friends ever since and Shane’s been like a father figure to me.
“South Sydney has had a big impact on my life and my career, and because of Shane it’s had an impact on my private life over the past six, seven or eight years.
“When Shane was leaving Penrith he came to the pub and told me, and the day after the (2014) Grand Final there was a big celebration at Coogee and I was lucky enough to be invited to that.
“Actually the 2014 Grand Final was the last Grand Final I went to because I’ve blogged the last two off the TV for Fairfax.
“I went to Florida when Souths played in Florida (in 2008), and I was at the World Club Challenge when they won that in 2015.
“It’s funny how things work out because when Souths were out of the comp I remember going to the game across the road (at Redfern Oval) when they played the United States and being abused by people because I worked at Fairfax and I do believe a governing body should be able to guide the future of a sport.
“I wrote a piece about it and even though I wasn’t in favour of Souths being kicked out, I was in favour of a governing body being able to make that decision.
“So when Souths were out I was really unpopular and so when Souths won the Grand Final I almost felt unworthy to write about it and I felt like I didn’t deserve to be in the rooms after they won the Grand Final and I was only at the celebrations because I was friends with Shane.
“But it was genuinely one of the greatest days I’ve ever experienced.
“It’s funny how things change in Rugby League. One minute you’re on the outer and then you’re in the inner sanctum and then you’re on the outer again. It’s just the way things are.”
How does Steve feel his first book has turned out?
“I couldn’t look at it for a while after I had finished it. But when I looked back on it I feel like this is my truest voice,” Steve said.
“Writing columns about Rugby League is kind of like me performing, in comparison. You’re doing something within narrow parameters, whereas this is like the most honest thing I’ve done.
“It feels like me more than anything else I’ve done, more than radio or writing columns.
“It’s rewarding in that regard.”
The book is also available from all major bookstores and www.stevemascord.com.