September 10, 2003
Matt Moffitt, Singer, songwriter, 1956-2003
On 13 August 2003, Matt Moffitt died in Sydney in his sleep at the age of 46
Matt Moffitt, songwriter and founder and lead singer of the rock band Matt Finish, has died in Sydney in his sleep, apparently from a stroke, at the age of 46.
Matt spent much of his childhood in Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains of NSW. In 1992 he released a solo EP, Euroka, named after a favourite place in the mountains.
But it was in the early 1980s that he recorded his most famous song, Short Note. This was the title track from his debut album, which went gold.
At 16, he developed a fear that everything could be taken away in the blink of an eye, after a horrific and traumatising head-on collision resulted in his girlfriend's death.
In his teens, Matt formed a Blue Mountains-based band, Rum Jungle, whose gigs sometimes turned into bloodbaths. He was a tortured and complex man, who started and ended life as a Catholic and had a taste for the dark and edgy.
Matt's parents were the late journalist and novelist Ian Moffitt and the journalist Betty Saunders and he spent some of
his formative years in New York. Always reckless, he encouraged his sister, Annabel, to clamber across New York rooftops at night. They would laugh at how they could have fallen to their deaths while their parents thought they were safe at home.
Matt's influences included black blues and soul from Hell's Kitchen in New York, jazz, the Oz rock of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the Beatles, and Cream's Jack Bruce.
He loved Henry Mancini's soundtrack to The Pink Panther, which he mutated into the hugely popular song The Mancini Shuffle. He particularly loved the Jack Bruce solo song Rope Ladder to the Moon.
Matt sang from his soul with the voice of a dark angel, going for instinct rather than structure, and was also a talented acoustic and electric guitarist.
In the 1980s he was signed by CBS and suddenly found himself in London with a very large amount of money. To save some of it, he recorded the album As Little As A Look in Belgium, where it was cheaper to record, but would spend $2000 on a dinner for the band.
On returning to Australia in 1986, Matt played the pub scene for more than a decade. A story in The National Times that year reported that he "swore enthusiastically at pub crowds when they turned aggressive, and sang poetry to skinheads and sharpies who had rolled up at gigs looking for heads to kick".
Matt was always high-risk. But Peter Dawkins, of Giant Records, had so much faith in Matt that he put his house on the line to back the Matt Finish album By Heart.
Matt was my oldest friend and the one I loved the most. We were both born in August 1956 and our parents were close friends.
The first time I really noticed him was when he arrived at my sixth birthday party in a velvet suit and lace shirt, bearing a bunch of boronia. He told me that day that when he grew up he was going to be a rock star.
When we were both 11, I moved to London with my family and Matt sometimes posted me illustrated letters that occasionally contained a tiny sprig of wattle or bush sand. By the time I returned home in 1970, I was madly in love with him. We were both 13.
Matt was tall, dark, moody and romantic and had a heightened sense of drama. At 12, he faked his own death, just for kicks. He fell off what appeared to be a cliff, screaming, knowing that just below was a rock ledge where he
could land safely. His distraught parents found him a minute later, crouching on the ledge, with his hand to his mouth, trying to stifle his laughter.
He was extremely passionate - and impulsive. At 16 he stormed out of his family home, after smashing his guitar and destroying his room, to live with a 23-year-old woman.
I lost track of Matt until, one Saturday when I was about 23 and sitting with a girlfriend in Manly, a man jumped from a moving van and started running towards us. It was Matt. He invited us to see him play that night and afterwards we began a clandestine affair. Then, to my dismay, he shot off to England, Europe and later the US.
Ten years later, Matt rang me out of the blue at about 11pm one night, with no explanation for the years without contact, and suggested I come over immediately to share some wine. This led to us sharing a house.
One day Matt and I had a screaming match about a girl. He later admitted inventing her just to enrage me. As always, I had believed everything he said.
We said we never wanted to see each other again. But we made up and he wrote a song called Blue, which he recorded with Matt Finish as a single. The moment he first sang it everything was forgotten and forgiven. The song was so beautiful that it would not have mattered had the girl existed.
Matt was one of the most complex human beings I have ever known. He had an ego the size of a house, but he was the shyest, most gentle of men, with a childlike innocence. He often suffered from severe stage fright which he counteracted with various poisons of choice. Once on stage, he always made an instant recovery, took command and
left his audience awe-struck.
Matt was a loner with a lot of admirers and a most surprising fan: Pete Townshend of the Who.
At his memorial service, Matt's long-term friend Rick Grossman (Hoodoo Gurus), who played with Matt for many years - most recently in the re-formed Matt Finish - described Matt as "the most passionate person I have ever known, which is why I loved him, even though I sometimes felt like killing him".
Many of Australia's music industry greats came to farewell him, including friends John Prior from the original Matt Finish, Don Walker (Cold Chisel), Doc Neeson (the Angels), Rob Hirst (Midnight Oil) and John Swan (Swannie).
Matt is survived by his fiancee, his former publicist Lucy Maureen Jedwab, whom he called "Wildflower", his mother, Betty, his sisters Annabel, Frances, Sophie and brother Dominic, all of whom adored him as much as he adored them.