Strutting his stuff in a satin shirt and tight pants, Wayne Anderson, Manurewa's sexy singer of songs, has cult fame within his grasp, even though financial success remains elusive.
Manurewa: home to nice botanical gardens, a plague of disheartening crime headlines and one of the greatest local television shows many have never seen. Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs, made by production house Butobase, languished in a TV2 graveyard slot a couple of years back. It still managed to acquire an audience addicted to the story of one man's pursuit of his polyester passion, his dream of stardom, his next piping-hot pie.
The series showcased Manurewa's greatest songster and his astonishing three and a half octave range, forged over 30 years following the likes of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Roy Orbison. Under the erratic guidance of his manager, Orlando, Wayne attempted to break out of the rest-home circuit, seeking his fortune on TV1's Good Morning and at any venue that didn't see the boys coming first.
The series never hit a bum note, even when Wayne did. The episode in which the pair found themselves stranded in Huntly achieved a tragi-comic futility to rival Waiting for Godot. Original, touching, unclassifiable: was it all a documentary, a mockumentary, a comedy or a con?
"I suspect the central figure - Wayne Anderson - is, in fact, made up," declared one critic. "Yeah, I know," says Wayne. "But there were other ones who said, 'No, I've seen him in Southmall, singing. He's real, all right.'"
The day I visit, Manurewa glistens in the spring sunshine like the diamante-encrusted cross nestled in Wayne's chest hair. The show was always about television messing with reality - writers are listed in the credits - but here is Wayne's house, exactly as it appeared on his show. Guests include Wayne's friend Fay, who's in the new series, and Butobase's Glenn Elliot. Fay met Wayne at an Elvis club. Elliot discovered him performing at Auckland's Kings Arms.
We're here to talk about Wayne Anderson: Glory Days, a fresh bid to arrest the moral and musical decline of Manurewa via a new radio station -- Radio Classy. I perch on Wayne's neatly made single bed, the only clear spot in a house untouched by decades of advances in interior décor, and devoted to Tom, Englebert, John Rowles, Pat Boone ... "They sounded good 40 years ago, they'll sound good in another 40 years' time because they are timeless. They're evergreen."
Even the kitchen cupboards are crammed with Wayne's immaculately organised collection of 6000 records, CDs and DVDs. "People walk past and they say, 'Is this a record shop or a radio station or do you live here?'" says Wayne. "I say, 'All three.'"
For a man content to appear on national television hitting high C in his budgie smugglers, Wayne is a little wary at first. His show was nominated for a comedy award. It's been described as "a masterpiece of sustained irony". Irony can be just another word for taking the piss. "Some people ask stupid things," he says. He prefers to talk music. He once met Tony Christie. "He said, 'Christ, you know more about what I've put out than what I do, Wayne.'" There was even, possibly, a Wayne Anderson influence on the great man. "He always opens his worldwide shows with Amarillo, but here he opened it with Avenues and Alleyways because of my cover version."
Up for discussion, too, is the source of Wayne's undisputed vocal power, his formidable diaphragm. "See that? That's rock." His demonstration of his range, from "Arrhhh" to "Laaaah!", is equal parts impressive and scary.
Which was part of the show's charm. I'm curious to know if Wayne was in on the joke. What kind of show did he think he was making? "Well, I was a little confused. I had envisaged it to be more of a serious music thing. There's a bit of that in it, but there's more comedy in it than what I envisaged. I'm a bit eccentric. Which is good, because you laugh at yourself."
There was always a thundering undertow of kitsch even in the appeal of greats like Elvis, Tom and Englebert. But cult fame can be an uneasy gig. "I don't like people taking the mickey unless I intend for it to be like that," says Wayne. With Glory Days, he insists, he's wanting more input. "See, if I sing a raspy note - we've all got off days - I don't want that in. I want a clear note. Or if I don't look too good, I don't want that in ... This time around, we want to rectify that. I'm viewing it and anything I'm not happy with, we'll alter it."
But if some viewers tune in more for the comedy than the music, he's okay with that. "No, it doesn't bother me. The extent of the eccentricity influence surprised me to begin with, but I've come to accept that. People always thought I was mad, anyway." Though when he says, "Any publicity is good publicity, really", you wonder how many times this not-always-comforting mantra has been suggested to him.
Wayne is happiest talking about his collection - "Anything that's not rubbish." Rubbish encompasses techno, hip-hop, all manner of headbangers. "I'm not for anything that's filth or satanic," he says. "Anybody bisexual, they're ruled out, aren't they, Wayne?" prompts Glenn Elliot. "Yes, they're ruled out. Got to be manly." Like Kamahl. "He's a real man, you see. Not these vaguely feminine people like there are today." I'm wondering by now if Wayne's a religious man. "I'm spiritual, yeah. But I'm not a prude. I wear tight pants and act sexy to the girls and all that sort of stuff," he says. "It's not filth, it's done tastefully."
Wayne himself is a visual symphony, dressed for manly success in a red satin shirt and his trademark tight white trousers - the outfit he's wearing in a publicity shot Fay's young grandson shyly offers me. The postcard features the "sexy singer of songs", with a roguish inscription for Fay. I ask Fay's grandson if he will write a nice card like this for his girlfriend when he grows up. "No," he says firmly.
Hilarious. But reality television can be cruel. Wayne Anderson: Glory Days seems even more scripted than the first series, what with the radio station and some mad trip to Japan. How much of what we see on screen is really Wayne? "I'd like to come across as 100% me, but obviously some of it has to be fitted with the storyline." So, is it about 50/50? "75/25," he reckons. "I live it. It's not made up. It's real."
And it's good to hear that television stardom has been a positive experience. "When I walk down the street, people want my autograph or they want a photograph. That's great." When he went to Christchurch, there was a limo and a red carpet. "I wasn't expecting that." So, how close has he come to living his dream? "Half. Money. I need more money."
He's not alone there. Or, perhaps, in his valiant, sometimes slightly deluded conviction that he can take on the world. That's the spirit that has driven this nation through many a yachting disappointment and Rugby World Cup fiasco. As he observes, "If I was ordinary, they wouldn't have done a TV programme on me." However contrived Wayne Anderson, the series, may be, Wayne Nils Anderson, singer of songs, is the genuine article. In his own way, evergreen.
A lovely afternoon finishes with a song. Tom Jones doing something a little bit country. Wayne takes Fay's hand and they sway gently amid the vintage album covers and racks of timeless tunes. "Say you'll stay until tomorrow ..." warbles Tom. It's a lovely song - utterly sincere and a little bit sad.