Tag Archives: Paul Kelly

Vale Gough Whitlam

I was lucky enough to go to university for free. It seems unlikely my children will be this fortunate.

I’m blessed to live in a country with universal health care.

I’ve seen the devastation wrought by dispossession from traditional lands (and songlines) and forced separation from families. Consequently, I’m a firm believer in indigenous land rights.

I didn’t grow up in a household that beatified the prime minister responsible for these changes. But I certainly grew up grateful for the social policies Mr Gough Whitlam mustered through the federal parliament.

Similar to the cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, my hope is that our current politicians might be inspired by Mr Whitlam’s lasting legacy and focus on the greater good, rather than mean-spirited ideology.

As Paul Kelly and Kev Camody wrote, even small changes can make a big difference.

A Springsteen soundtrack to the years

Two albums provided the soundtrack to my final years in secondary school. Prince’s Purple Rain was epic, eccentric ’80s pop. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA was gritty rock’n’roll stories of blue collar struggles and broken dreams. Prince’s characters were all mascara, lavender and lace. Springsteen’s were denim and dust and could have stepped from a Steinbeck novel.

I played both albums so many times I knew every note. School finished. I became a labourer and university student. New friends and long car trips made for evolving musical tastes. Albums like The Triffid’s Born Sandy Devotional, Paul Kelly’s Gossip and U2’s Joshua Tree intersected with my life. Apart from a brief flirtation with Prince, when we partied like it was 1999, the Purple One rarely returned to my stereo.

Mr Springsteen released a handful of albums I didn’t connect with. Rather than waiting for new material I started delving backwards. Albums like Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town were brilliant. The triple-cassette/CD (and 5 LP) compilation Live 1975-85 was the first box set I ever bought and showed me the showman as well as the storyteller, not to mention a band flexing some serious rock’n’roll biceps. That live set has been a regular companion ever since, ensuring Mr Springsteen’s work has chimed through the decades. The first track even provides the name for this blog.

Last Saturday I was part of a crowd of 17,000 people watching Bruce Springsteen and his legendary E-Street Band. The venue was Hanging Rock, about the closest thing I’ll ever have to a sacred site from my adolescence. Old school friends were dotted through the throng, along with great mates from recent years.

Only one other thing could have guaranteed time travel. Sure enough, there she was, grooving like no one was watching. Sighting the unmatched, unforgettable and unrequited crush of my late teen years felt surreal and somehow perfect.

Mr Springsteen and his 15-member band arrived on stage before sunset and launched into three hours of sublime musicianship. There was barely a breath between songs; even the break before the encore was fleeting. The storytelling was left to the lyrics and performances.

Perceptibly, the band were having fun in front of their biggest audience of the Wrecking Ball tour. Their smiles dominoed through the crowd. I saw years and burdens lifted from mates’ shoulders. We’d all named tracks we hoped to hear live; none of us missed out.

Best of all, the highlights came in unexpected places. Pardon the pun but the brass section blew us away, particularly on Johnny 99 and Pay Me My Money Down. Mr Tom Morello was every bit as awesome on guitar as in the clip on my previous post, making The Ghost of Tom Joad soar.

We walked away abuzz. On Easter Sunday morning I told a friend it was the best concert I’d ever seen. He’d been there at the rock too so he understood. He corrected me, “It’s the best concert you will ever see.”

I’ve trawled YouTube looking for a memory to do justice to our experience. There are great clips but nothing that matches what’s in my head. Instead I’m leaping into the DeLorean and travelling back to the celebrated song about writers’ block, Dancing in the Dark. Why? On this post, it feels right.

For the serious Bruce buffs, here’s the setlist from Hanging Rock, 30 March 2013:
1. Badlands
2. Prove it all night
3. High hopes
4. We take care of our own
5. Wrecking ball
6. Death to my hometown
7. Hungry heart
8. Spirit in the night
9. The river
10. Tougher than the rest (duet with Jimmy Barnes)
11. Atlantic city
12. Johnny 99
13. Pay me my money down
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled & drawn
16. Waitin’ on a sunny day
17. The promised land
18. The rising
19. The ghost of Tom Joad
20. Thunder Road
21. If I should fall behind
22. Because the night
23. Born to run
24. Glory days
25. Dancing in the dark
26. Tenth Avenue freeze-out


Winding up, winding down

How do you capture the flavour of 366 days in a few words? Issued the challenge, I’d have to go with: Work intense. Writing irregular. Friendships strong. Cycling legs good. A curveball (or wake-up call) to end the year…

But that doesn’t really cut the mustard, does it? If it means anything, it’s probably only to yours truly. The rest of you deserve better.

So, at the risk of boring any regular readers, let’s recap a tad. The tiny company I’ve worked with for over a decade, the same mob that’s given me the flexibility to be an author when the Muse sings and a public speaker when schools, libraries and festivals come calling, was taken over twice in 18 months. From my POV that involved adapting to approximately three successive sets of managers and a morass of policies, procedures and paperwork easily the equivalent of this. Or this.

There are definite upsides to working for a juggernaut entity but survival in a large organisation means striving harder to be seen. In the past two years I’ve taken on two massive and rewarding projects – but have had to wind back on being an author and speaker. I’m hoping to adjust the balance soon.

Work aside, this year has served up some considerable challenges. There was the phone call that let me know my parents had been hit head-on by a recidivist careless(!) driver, health scares for friends, the text message in the middle of the night that suggested other friends may be splitting up and the test result that delivered a personal wake-up call.

Daunting in far more positive ways have been the commitment to raise over $2500 and ride 200km plus for cancer research (mission accomplished – thank you all), finding the right secondary school for the Little Dragon (fingers crossed) and working on proposals for two new novels (in progress). I loved touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Working with students studying Five Parts Dead was good fun, too. On the bike I’ve clocked up 4825 km in 2012 so far, which has to be a PB.

A particular 2012 highlight was the night I spent acting as a prompt for Impro Melbourne creativity. Over the course of the night I read three passages from my work and left the impro experts to run with whatever ideas occurred to them, based on my readings. The third passage I chose was from a speculative fiction manuscript I’m working on and, not only did the actors enjoy it, I had audience members approach me and ask where they could buy the book. That’s what you want to hear about an unfinished work. Confidence can be a fleeting thing and any boost is a bonus.

And so to my traditional end of year lists. Because work has dominated the year, I haven’t read, watched or listened as much as usual. I’ve probably forgotten favourites but here are those that sprang to mind as I prepared this post:

TV: It’s been a big year for Glee at my place, courtesy of the Little Dragon singing lead in his school rockband. Once the kids slide into sleep, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ABC productions such as Rake and back seasons of Deadwood and Friday Night Lights.

Movies: Apart from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which was great fun if a tad long, I haven’t had many magical cinema moments this year. The Dark Knight Rises was solid but didn’t quite deliver to the expectations of this Frank Miller fan. Take This Waltz lodged in my head for quite a while but my favourite films for 2012 were Paul Kelly: Stories of Me and the utterly wonderful Hugo (based on the prize-winning book).

Reading: I’m immersed in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) to the detriment of all other titles. Other reading highlights include: David Almond’s Skellig; the marvellously consistent Bob Graham’s A Bus Called Heaven; Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones; The Rider by Tim Krabbe; and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. There’s a few tears in that list.

Music: Apart from the aforementioned Glee, there’s been limited time for music this year, sadly. Albums that did strike a chord include: Metals by Feist; All the Little Lights by Passenger; Spring & Fall by Paul Kelly; and Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. (Late arrivals I’m currently enjoying are Of Monsters & Men’s My Head is an Animal (very Arcade Fire) and Chet Faker’s Thinking in Textures).

Thank you to everyone who has visited this blog, read my books and supported me in 2012. Your faith and friendship is appreciated.

New Year’s Eve update: Having managed some downtime in the past few weeks and in the wake of a visit by the jolly bearded gent I am belatedly entering the universe of Chris Ware. This is storytelling on a whole new level, best tackled by emotionally resilient and visually adventurous readers. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the National Year of Reading. From where I’m sitting it’s been such a success we should do it all again. Starting tomorrow.

Random post-birthday musings

1. As part of my preparation for a session at this year’s Melbourne Writers’ festival, I read Alice Pung’s new book, Her Father’s Daughter. I don’t often do non-fiction, let alone memoir. It feels too much like work and not enough like escapism. But perhaps I’m maturing. I know I’m ageing. Either way, Alice’s story was evocative, brutally honest and beautifully written. It will turn up on school reading lists, deservedly.

Looking back, the day Alice and I spoke to young writers at MWF was the same day the High Court over-ruled the so-called ‘refugee swap deal’. All people with views on refugees and multiculturalism should read Alice’s book. And watch Go Back To Where You Came From on SBS. Please.

2. Having conquered a memoir, I grabbed Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy, which I’ve stored for over a year, waiting for the right time. Before I began it, I downloaded Scot Gardner’s The Dead I Know. Man, did that blow me away. Scot’s narrator is a kid who gets apprenticed to a funeral director. He’s also a character you really want to see find some peace.

I can tell you that Scot has clearly done his research because some of the detail surprised me. That’s saying something because my Dad is a clergyman who has a fair bit to do with funeral directors. And I’ve spent many hours in the Coroner’s Courts, including a tour behind the scenes. This book could upset some readers but I still recommend it highly. Death shouldn’t be a taboo topic. The Dead I Know is a crackerjack yarn suitable for teens 15 and up.

3. Reading How To Make Gravy is like peering through a microscope at the germs of ideas that led to songs. For instance, Adelaide begins with the lines ‘The wisteria on the back veranda’s still blooming / and all the great aunts are either insane or dead…’ I love that opening. With no disrespect intended to my departed great aunts, it always reminds me of my childhood, visiting them in houses that seemed to be permanently mid-summer yet shaded by a sadness I didn’t understand – despite the Aunts’ mischief and hospitality.

These were women from a generation where many of the men were slaughtered on battlefields or returned too damaged to marry and have a ‘normal’ family life. I have the postcards written to them by their soldier brothers. Perhaps a story will emerge from these cards one day.

For the record, Paul Kelly says ‘insane’ was too harsh on his relatives but ‘eccentric’ didn’t work as well in a song. Never trust a song writer, he says.

4. There’s a lot of time travel involved in hearing the stories behind Paul Kelly’s songs. He jumps back to when he was writing them. I’m transported to when I had them reverberating from a cheap car stereo, commuting to university and various jobs – woodchopping, gardening, cleaning bricks…

Last year I saw the documentary on the making of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. I ended up buying the doco packaged up with the album, out-takes and DVDs of various live performances including the entire Darkness album in 2009. That means I can watch Springsteen and the E Street Band belting out a song in 1978 and then see them tackle the same track three decades later. The Boss’ voice and face may have changed but the passion hasn’t. It’s great stuff.

5. And so, back to the title of this post. I injured myself recently and was immobilised for a couple of days. I’m allowed to get on a bike for the first time in three weeks this weekend and even then I’ll need to exercise caution, dammit. Throw in a birthday and there’s been a whole lot of introspection going on.

I’m more conscious than ever of the stories around me, the battles all people face every day. There’s the healer grieving at facing retirement – the spirit still willing but the flesh unable to give any more. There’s the medico, so worn down by responsibilities and history that he carries the load on his spine and tells his tale to strangers, seeking his personal redemption or cure. There’s the father watching a daughter fight for life. The wife mired in a misery she is seeding for another generation and tends like a vegetable patch. The child being bullied.

And, today, the small group of indigenous Australians achieving a rare victory against the News Limited juggernaut.

So many stories. So little time. I wonder what my story will be when I have 30 years of writing to look back upon.