Tag Archives: lyrics

Words and music

Maybe it’s the stickybeak in me. Or the reporter. Actually, let’s go with ‘compulsive storyteller’. That’s more palatable.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, I spend a lot of time seeing or hearing things and making up stories to go with them.

Example. I was in a doctors’ waiting room this morning and found myself matching all manner of ailments and injuries to the patients shuffling by. The bloke with both arms in plaster was probably a motorcyclist or bruised cyclist like me but I initially had him falling off a factory roof during a break and enter… Sorry, mate.

I do this with songs, too – listen to the lyrics and try to guess what the composer had in mind when they wrote the song. (Over the years I’ve matured slightly and reluctantly accepted that artists might not actually be singing auto-biographical material about their own achy-breaky hearts.)

So I’m really excited to have Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy on order. This is an Answer Book, as far as I’m concerned. Questions I’ve mused over, songs I’ve listened to for years are going to be explained by the man himself. I can’t wait.

Another project that has piqued my interest is the collaboration between US singer-songwriter Ben Folds and UK author Nick Hornby. The latter took short stories and other ideas and turned them into lyrics. The former wrote melodies and created songs. The end result was the album, Lonely Avenue. Here’s a link to my favourite track, so far. It’s a universal story that many, many people will identify with.

And here’s a trailer explaining how the Lonely Avenue project came to be:

Keyboard soundtracks

When I started in journalism smoking was still permitted in the newsroom. I shared a desk with a gnarled newshound who seemingly did his best work with a cigarette clenched between his lips.

There were no ‘mobile’ phones to speak of. The portable phones had battery packs the size of two house bricks. Laptop computers were basically a keyboard with a 30 x 4 cm screen that displayed about two sentences (two Tweets) worth of text. Wiring a story through one of these machines back to the office invariably failed and I’d end up dictating to a ‘copytaker’ instead, usually with my deadline looming.

Desktop computers were clunky, slow machines with dim green screens. We could write and edit copy and then make it available to subeditors. That was it.

No email. No Internet. Hear that, kids?

There were no CD-drives or MP3 players either. Filing copy took determination – consciously shutting out the cacophany of the newsroom (phones jangling, telex machines zipping, chief of staff calling for volunteers, bored copytakers, loud ‘phoner’ interviews and combative conversations) to focus on writing.

After newsroom smoking was banned I can still recall one old hack heading to the toilets to bash out his yarns. The smell of smoke and clatter of a keyboard would waft over the cubicle door. Underneath, a stubby would be visible between his boots.

By the time I switched to web journalism, the digital age had dawned. The dress code and deadlines weren’t the only thing to change. Now we could don headphones and use music to inspire us – or to block out the world. An iPod and sound-dampening headphones are now vital for closing down office chatter.

That’s why this Jonathan Crossfield post about listening to music at work struck a chord.

I listen to a vast range of music in the office, depending on the task at hand. If I’m writing, as distinct to doing repetitive web chores, I need to quarantine myself from others’ words. That means instrumental music is required. As Jonathan says, classical tends to be unpredictable – you’re chilling out and then BLAMMO, a wake-up call from the entire orchestra. (One exception is Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which are said to have been written for a wealthy patron who was an insomniac in need of calming music.)

Lately I’ve been using jazz (Coltrane and Davis) or ambient music that doesn’t intrude into my thoughts as much. I’ve even been known to listen to ocean waves or a two-hour track of rain falling. No whalesong, please.

If I’m not writing or editing, anything goes. At the back end of a website is a lot of boring and repetitive work (categorising recipe ingredients, anyone?) so the livelier the music the better.

But what is the best soundtrack to write by? I’d say silence, spiced with wind in the trees and distant surf. I better start saving for that coastal hideaway. In the meantime, I’ll keep the iPod handy.

Driving with Don Walker

Get me to the station by a quarter to two,
This town’s like a stripper with a broken shoe.
Either she’s getting fatter or the veils have shrunk
And anyone who’s staying is blind or drunk…

Don Walker / Catfish
Unlimited Address (1988)

I bought this album because I knew Don Walker’s work in Cold Chisel. It’s not a rock album. It’s more like blues with an international, gypsy feel. It was probably way too obtuse for Chisel fans and reportedly didn’t sell well.

Nonetheless, it took me to all manner of exotic places, well beyond the range of my daily commute. It might have even kept me alive, as I’d sing along driving home from graveyard shifts at The Sun … or stay alert musing over how many of the portraits Walker painted were based on his personal experiences.

I’ve never forgotten these particular lyrics. They’re economical and evocative. We’ve all visited places that made us wonder why people stay. Good storytellers make us want to ask what happened next. Did he make the train? Where did he travel to?

Walker has a new blues album out entitled We’re All Gunna Die. I’m gunna buy it.