FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SINGLE PANEL CARTOONISTS

Unless you’re terminally non-observant, or have just ended up here because you accidentally googled “Billie Piper’s nipples”, (It’s true, and no, I don’t know why), you’ll be aware that one of the careers I came very close to following was drawing single-panel cartoons. (Go on, admit it. You’ve only just come back after googling “Billie Piper’s nipples” to see whether it works, haven’t you?). I mean, I’ve only dedicated about a million Thursdays to posting thumbnails I’ve scratched out over the years.

Put simply, there came I time where I had to concentrate on either writing or cartooning if I wanted to make a career in the arts, and writing won.

Still, cartooning remains very close to my heart, and if the 18 Month Plan sticks, who knows? I might find the time to invest some real energy into resurrecting that particular dream in the interests of my ongoing artistic diversification. Weirder things have happened.

In the meantime, for those of you who’ve enjoyed catching up with my half-realised ambitions, here’s a list of 5 single panel cartoonists who have influenced not just my cartooning, but my approach to all my artistic material over the years.

 

Five for Friday: Single Panel Cartoonists

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: CLOSING LINES

One of the better exercises I run during my workshops is also one of the simplest: I give participants a list of final lines from stories already published. Participants pick one and use it as the opening line of a new work. Once the story is completed, simply delete the (un-original) opening line and voila, complete story!

It often prompts participants to ask which of my own closing lines I would use, or which is my favourite. So here’s a list of five of my favourite closing lines. do the exercise yourself. See what you come up with. Then show me: I’d love to see where it takes you.

 

Five for Friday: Closing Lines.

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS

I love a good soundtrack album. A good soundtrack album highlights the narrative of a movie. It provides a beat-by-beat visceral reminder of that movie’s significant moments, while  bringing a contributing artist out of their self-enclosed zone and forcing them to create something to service a wider story, or at least to define a visual moment within their own, unique sound.

At their best, soundtrack albums can transcend the movie itself and provide a listening journey all their own, akin to a concept album of the highest water. The very best, for me, become an entity in their own right: you don’t have to watch the movie at all to appreciate the nuances, the narrative, and the emotional impact of the music within.

Here, then, are five of my favourites.

Five for Friday: Soundtrack Albums.

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: EARLY GODS WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG

Way back when I first started out to be a writer– no, not back in 2001. Before that. Nope, before that. before that– yep, back in the late 80s, when I began University and first set out to myself the idea that I might do this writing lark for actual monies, I was a simple boy from a working class background with a very mainstream and staid set of cultural influences.

Except in two regards: one was music, because I had my own boombox and could absorb the late night programs on the FM channels that were still fighting for ascendancy with my parents’ easy listening AM mainstays, and using progressive programming and an aggressively contemporary– still mainstream and radio friendly, but at least up-to-date– playlist aimed at attracting a younger audience.

The other was reading. My mother was a keen reader, and although we didn’t have many books in the house, she was an avid user of the local libraries, and our house had pretty much an ‘if you can reach it, you can read it’ system in place. Consequently, I was exposed to a wide range of what passed for literature in Rockingham libraries in the 80s (lots of Zane Grey and Jackie Collins, maybe not quite so much Don De Lillo and Jorge Luis Borges…) So I read Lord of the Rings at ten, was openly reading Erica Jong before I finished primary school, became a lifelong fan of Dick Francis and Robert Ludlum at a time when my peers were still reading Roald Dahl and John Marsden, and generally had the run of the local libraries. At a time when you could get a maximum of 2 books out if you were under 15, and 4 if you were over, I had a “how many this week?” relationship with the staff at the little library in Safety Bay that worked wonders for both my imagination and my biceps.

And then there was science fiction. SF was the genre that gave me the hunger, the one that opened my mind to not only what was being done in literature, but just what could be done. When I first started to write, seriously, with intent, in those early years of University, when all my horizons were limitless and my ambitions stretched light years beyond my abilities, I wrote science fiction. And when it came to influences, these were the gods I carried in my back pocket, whose words shaped the style of writer I wanted to be. Earlier on, I discussed 5 writers whose work I love and who influence my current ambitions. Now it’s time to look backwards, and talk about those who influenced my early steps.

 

Five for Friday: Earliest Influences

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: PROJECTS AMONGST THE SAVAGES

So, if you read my post earlier in the week, you’ll know that big changes are afoot in the New Year. You’ll also know why my writing world has been so moribund lately, and how my career has slowly diminished to the point that its sliding off the rails looked pretty much exactly like the train set fight in Ant-Man, with about as much impact on the surrounding landscape.

This is also a partial explanation as to why Five for Friday posts have been on hiatus for the last 3 months: Real Life ™ has pretty much eaten everything away.

Still, here we are. With the revelation that, all being well, I’ll be full-time Batthaim admin staff come February next year, it seems only fitting that the first Five for Friday post since that particular discussion be on the subject of just what I’ll be aiming to achieve in my two-year tour of duty amongst the housebound of outback Western Australia.

Five for Friday: Full Time Writing Projects

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: A KARASS OF CAREER TWISTS

Last week, I touched upon five people who have had a direct impact upon turning points in my career. This week, I thought it would be interesting to consider another five people who have had an impact: not on specific turning points, this time, but in a more general sense.

Here, then, are five people who are in my writing karass not because they intruded at a specific time or place, but because they diverted the course of my river gently, or persistently, or in ways that cannot be singularly identified.

Five for Friday: A Karass of Career Twists

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: A KARASS OF TURNING POINTS

As much as I’m a died-in-blood-on-the-wool-of-the-lamb-that-lay-down-with-the-lion atheist, I’ve always had a bit of a leaning towards the fictional cult of Bokononism that Kurt Vonnegut espoused in my favourite of his novels, Cat’s Cradle. It’s a harmless creed of self-gratification, based around the tenet that you should believe the lies that make you happiest, and discard those fabricated, societal lies– say, for example, family, government, or honour– that cause you misery or harm.

My birth family imploded badly during the 1980s — and my own growth has shown me what a flawed, deeply unhappy accidental grouping it was — so the novel struck a cord when I first read it. Of particular attraction, and something I’ve held to ever since, was the notion of the karass– a group of people linked by common affect or circumstance, for good or ill, even if they do not know it. The girl to whom I lost my virginity: part of my karass. The doctor who killed my first wife: likewise. The teacher who first noted my talent for writing and helped turn me away from the military and towards a life in the arts: you get the idea.

It is not the link forged by societal expectation that counts. It is the link forged by the effect upon my journey that is the strongest.

So what does all this post-pop-psychology-posturing have to do with anything?

One of the main tasks associated with my current KSP writing residency is to provide a mentoring session to an aspiring artist. I don’t mentor as often as I used to. As I get older and my career gets more complicated, I find myself less and less sure about what I have to offer others, outside of straight writing advice. I’m less of an example, and more of an example of mistakes to avoid……

However, it does strike me as a timely opportunity to acknowledge five people who have provided important turning points in my career. Whether they know it or not, and whether they want it or not, they are– inextricably– members of my writing karass.

Five for Friday: Members of my Writing Karass.

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: WRITING HOMES

As of Monday, I start a two-week residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre. I’ll be away from my home and family, tucked up in a little cabin, where I’ll be pounding away at Ghost Tracks and a bunch of stories for my untitled-horror-stories-set-throughout-Western-Australian-history thing I’ve been chipping away at for god knows how long. I’ll also be delivering a public talk and a workshop, mentoring an aspiring novelist, and attending a literary dinner at the Centre– I’ll post an itinerary so you can join me in the general merry wassailing and biscuits.

For the moment, however, I thought it would be timely to visit some of the other writing destinations that have housed me over the last 16 years, and provided me with an opportunity to do something other than sit alone, in a room, crying tapping out silly things on my keyboard.

Five for Friday: Writing Homes

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: ONE ALBUM, LIFE-LONG DEVOTION.

You know how it is. Some artists release a string of songs that speak to the innermost tremblings of your soul. No matter where you are in your life, somehow they seem to know, and find that connection, so that whatever is happening, you can pick up an album, or turn to your playlist, and find the words, and the music, that pick at the tendons of your feelings and bring your heart, and mind, and soul together in a syncopated, three-minute burst of perfection.

And then, you know, there’s Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop.

Somewhere in between, there’s a strange beast, or at least, in my listening life there is. Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with an album, only to find that the love is pretty much exactly one album deep. Sure, there’s the occasional songs here and there, for a while. But never that tumultuous wrestling with my feelings, never that look across a crowded playlist that says You. Me. One the floor. Right now. Don;t even take your clothes off. I’ll chew through them myself. Some of these albums have been with me for years, and yet, they’ve never inspired me to go much further in pursuing that artist’s career, or my emotional reactions to their work.

Leaving aside Best Of’s, which are a different thing entirely, here, then, are five albums that I’ve carried with me since their release, which are still, lock-stock on my playlist in their entirety, but which are unburdened by company.

Five for Friday: One album wonders.

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: VISUAL ARTISTS

Full disclosure: if I could play guitar the way I wish I could, I probably wouldn’t be a writer. If I could act as well as I wish I could, I probably wouldn’t be just a writer. If I could draw, or paint, or create visual art… ah, if I could only do that…..

I’ve always loved the visual arts: deeply, at a level beyond my capacity to articulate. No trip to a new town, a new State, a new country, is complete until I’ve experienced the art gallery, the sculpture park, the local museum. I think in pictures, explain in diagrams, communicate in sketches and arms waved around to delineate space and placement.

Sadly, as anybody who has been following my Thumbnail Thursday posts, or has seen the few cartoons I actually managed to finish and have published over the years, can attest, it turns out I can’t draw for shite.

My sense of visualisation, however, is very strong. When I’m writing– when it’s going well, and the words are flowing at their highest swell– I have a very clear image of what I’m writing about; so strong that, at times, I’m doing little more than transcribing what I see, rather than truly creating from empty cloth.

Still, words are an artificial construct, a mechanical choice between pre-forged components relying on a social contract between author and audience to assign meaning to the thoughts being relayed. (See?) When I experience an image; when I see the combination of light, colour, form and medium and it sparks of an emotional recognition in me; it feels pure, unrestrained.

If I could, I would. Until then, I rely on my own imperfect tools, and my own limited repertoire of creative skills. But here are five artists who do things to me I can only wish I had the talent to replicate.

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: VISUAL ARTISTS

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: FAVOURITE AUTHORS

Back when I was growing up, it’s fair to say that the explosion of artistic experimentation represented by the post-war literary boom, the New Wave, the Sixties, sexual liberation, good music, haircuts longer than a piece of peach fuzz, and colour television hadn’t really reached my hometown of Boganville. When I first started to entertain the idea of becoming a writer, benchmarking options were fairly thin on the ground: what i looked on as some sort of aspirational holy trinity consisted of everybody’s starter for 10: Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.

It’s far to say, I don’t exaggerate when I say going to University was the saving of my soul.

Over the years, I’ve stumbled across countless authors who have filled in gaps in my education, my understanding of the Universe, and paved the way for me to become an infinitely better human being than I was the day I first walked across campus (First, yes, I pretty much do separate my life into before and after day one of Uni, and second, if you think I’m an arsehole now, that’s probably fair, you should have known me then).

So, for today, here’s a list of five authors whose works I remain in love with, who continue to inspire me, and for whom I am, unashamedly, a fanboy.

FIVE for FRIDAY: AUTHORS

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: POETS

When I was in my final years of high school: of barely-moderate achievement; from a family with a fair to middling military history; living in a Navy town; surrounded by friends who either came from a military family or had aspirations to join the military, I pretty much sold my mother on the idea that I was going to join the Army. I had long harboured a dream to join the Air Force– I was, as I still am, deeply in love with military aircraft, and wanted more than anything to be a pilot. However, when my eyes betrayed me, I decided I couldn’t bear to be in the Air Force and not fly, so the Army it was going to be. I applied for, and was accepted into, the Australian Defence Force Academy, and convinced my Mum that I was on my way to becoming a Lieutenant in the Intelligence Division.

Two days from the flight, I had a panic attack and cancelled everything. Instead, I enrolled in an English degree, and stayed at home for the next three years while I learned to write poetry. I literally ran away from the Army to become a poet.

To her dying day, I don’t think my mother ever quite forgave me.

My first publications were poems, and I still, every now and again– especially when the creative well is dry and I need to kick something into gear through sheer wordplay and condensed imagery– turn to poetry. There’s a comfort in working within the form, and a sense of pure satisfaction whenever I make it work (not often enough: I’m just not good enough, or disciplined enough, to be a real poet). My most recently completed long work is a poem, of sorts: a 32-stanza picture book I’m waiting to hear back from my publisher about.

So here, for the fun of it, are 5 poets whose work I love, and whose views of the world have influenced my own work.

FIVE for FRIDAY: POETS

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FIVE for FRIDAY: JUSTICE LEAGUE

A little while ago, I posted my alternative, all-female, Five for Friday Avengers line-up. It was carefully worked out, beautifully rationalised, and, you know, I’m ready and waiting, Marvel…….

Master 12, who is much more a DC fan than a Marvel fan, has demanded parity. So, utilising the same rules, (all females; secondary characters that are too cool to dispose of, but never seem to get any real primacy), and the same set of character definitions (A Tank, a General, a Conscience, a Street Warrior, and a Wildcard: check the original post for rationalisations.), here is my all-new, all-female, Justice League.

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: WRITING EXERCISES

I’ve been in a writing lull, now, going on something in the region of three years. The promise of my early days, when I was selling ten stories a year, seems a long way away as the combination of life-consuming day job, depression, and general Real Life ™ has slowly chipped away my creativity, my drive, and my time.

However, one thing I’ve maintained is my enjoyment of teaching writing, and when I have managed to write, it’s been via applying one of the exercises I use to teach aspiring writers, and pushing through to get some sort of result out of it. So here, for your own education, are five exercises I regularly use to get my heart started.

Five for Friday: Writing Exercises

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FIVE for FRIDAY: FIRST LINES

As a writer, half the battle of capturing your reader’s attention is won or lost in the first line. Capture their interest– hook them– and they’ll accord you extra time to do the things you need to do. Provide a bland or boring opening, and you’d better have an explosion arriving real quick, because there’s a new episode of Duck Dynasty on the tube and someone’s cooking sausages.

(Of course, you can take my advice for what it’s worth by noting that the greatest play ever written starts with the first line, “Who’s there?”)

Over the course of my career I’ve written some cracking opening lines (if I do say so myself) and some that have done little more than provide the literary equivalent of lobbing the ball over the next just so the other player can return serve.

Here are five of my best.

Five for Friday: First Lines

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FIVE for FRIDAY: RIGHT OF REPLY

Last week, I discussed Ms 15’s discovery of the The Beatles, and compared it to my own teenage awakening. In a guest post, she revealed her favourite 5 Beatles songs, and why:

  1. Here Comes the Sun
  2. Oh! Darling!
  3. I Am the Walrus
  4. Hey, Jude
  5. Let it Be

By way of reply, and to pay her back for usurping 2 of the songs I would have chosen for my list, it’s only right that I list my own favourites, in no particular order.

Five for Friday: My Own Favourite Beatles Songs

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FIVE for FRIDAY: Ms. 15s LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

One of the most delightful moments of parenting comes when a child independently discovers something that has given you joy for years, and begins to express their own joy.

I first discovered The Beatles in a big way when my mother started dating the man who would become her 3rd husband. I was fourteen, and just beginning to branch out from my parents’ taste in music. Mum was early-Beatles: she hated what they did after they became “stupid hippies”. Ray was just as conservative, but for reasons I never figured out, had a copy of The White Album amongst the Jose Carreras and  London Symphony Orchestra. For other reasons I never figured out– he openly refused to move in with Mum until we were out of the house because he didn’t want to be bothered with us– he gave me free reign of his record collection. And I went nuts for this album. Nuts, I tells ya. And my life-long love for The Beatles (and yeah, I’m Team Stupid Hippies) was born.

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FIVE for FRIDAY: INTERNATIONAL BOOK CROSSING DAY

Happy International Book Crossing Day, everyone!

What’s Book Crossing day, I hear you ask? Well, sit your jimmy-jammied little bot-bots down, and I’ll tell you. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

Book Crossing is a fun little website wherein you can release books into the wild, tagged with a barcode, and watch them as they are shared across the known world by people who are prepared to let them go once they’ve finished reading and go onto the website to log the wheres and the whens of the controlled release program. Think of it like tagging sharks for scientific purposes, without the wet and the cold and the seasickness and the risk of getting your bollocks gnawed off. Assuming you don’t try to release the book in Mirrabooka, anyway. There’s a whole lot to learn at the Book Crossing website, including the fact that they have a Day, and it’s today!

So to celebrate, I’m releasing five books into the wild today, and these are they, along with the links to their Book Crossing records so you can watch them disappear into obscurity along with the rest of us.

Five for Friday: Books Away!

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FIVE for FRIDAY: FEMALE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

Here’s a not so secret ambition: I want to write comic books. Specifically, I want to write the sort of off-the-wall bizarro superhero comics that hit me right in the cerebral cortex when I came back to comics in my University years: comics that were written by guys like Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Frank Miller and Alan Moore during the early, oddball Vertigo days, before they all went mainstream and electric and started doing Unplugged albums.

Here’s what else I want to do: take an established property and push it away from the same stable of core characters that we’re about to shove in a movie, so could you please re-draw them to look like the actors portraying them (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Bendis-MOR, post-Abnett Guardians of the Galaxy). And while I’m playing in the sandbox, I want to get my teeth into some of the supplementary characters: too cool to be disposed of, but never really given enough oomph to escape the cookie cutter.

So, while I’m expounding my Christmas list, let’s pretend I’ve been given free reign to choose my own Avengers team. And let’s pretend that, in the interest of satisfying all of the above, I’ve persuaded Marvel to let me write an all-female team (because, quite honestly, pretty much my favourite ever run of X-Men was back in the 250s or so, when the entire team was female, and they had to be smart instead of just punching and slashing everything that came along).

So, here’s this week Five for Friday: my female Avengers line-up. In order to do this, I’ve picked out 5 archetypes that I think a good team needs for balance.

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5 for FRIDAY: LEGO SETS

Every growing boy needs a hobby. For me, it’s Lego. I loved the toy as a child, before undergoing what Lego fandom refers to as ‘The Dark Ages’ when I was thirteen or fourteen– that period between discovering Lego and rediscovering it.

I rediscovered it a few years ago thanks to my kids: Luscious and I had bought Ms 15 some Duplo when she was a little sausage person, and passed it on to Master 12 when he became a little sausage person. Neither of them had really taken to it, until one day, when searching for a way to create a maze for the remote control T-Rex they were playing with, they brought it out.

“I wonder what they’d do with some real Lego?” I said to Luscious.
“You should nip down the ships and pick some up,” she replied. (He says, passing-the-blamingly).

Today, I have a collection that lies just short of 200 sets, and just north of 55,000 pieces. The children, meanwhile, have iPads and iPods, and laptops. I have displayed at the last 2 Bricktober exhibitions, and am currently working on my display for a third consecutive year, and have travelled to Melbourne to exhibit at their giant Brickvention exhibition. I am a member of several online Lego groups, have a Flickr account, and spend hundreds of dollars a year at the Bricklink second-hand site, buying individual pieces for my MOCs (My Own Creations: what adults call this thing wot I built all by myself to make it sound more adult).

In short, I’m an AFOL: an Adult Fan of Lego. And I loves it with great lovingness.

In many ways, I’ve passed beyond buying sets: I’m more interested in MOCs, as it expands my creative skills, and it’s the act of artistic creation that fires my juices. But, like many of my colleagues, sets were where I started before I slid over to the more self-expressive, artistic end of the spectrum. So here are five sets that fuelled my love of the brick, and which will be the last to leave my cold, dead hands.

 

5 for Friday: Lego sets

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5 for FRIDAY: TITLES, WITH MY BLESSING

You know how it is: you have an idea, and it sounds brilliant, so you write it down because, damn, man, this is the one. This is the one. And then, somehow, it never quite pans out that way. The zag never matches up with the zig. The yang never quite lives up to the ying. Or the zag and the yang elope when your back is turned, and there you are, propping up the end of a bar with poor, bereft zig and ying, bemoaning what could have been.

Or, you know, you just have an idea for a title and the story never quite comes.

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5 for FRIDAY: INK ME!

To further my descent from ordinary son of a bigoted, white, working class, English family to inexplicable arty-farty possible-poofter who ‘aint never been t’ same since ‘e went off to t’ Big City darn Sarf, I got me a tattoo for my most recent birthday.

tattoo

Honestly, I have no idea why, but tattoos are genuinely addictive. I cannot explain it– although I have confirmed it with others who have them– but having received my first one, all I can think about is how soon I can go back and get my second, and third, and eighth, and fifteenth.

Seriously. This is me. This is me, now.

So, for today’s 5 for Friday, here are 5 designs I’m determined to get.

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5 FOR FRIDAY: WELCOME, WELCOME!

I’ll do anything to avoid real writing.

A couple of years ago, I threw up a post in response to a Triple J segment in which Megan Washington listed 5 songs she wished she’d written. While avoiding life the other night, I decided to revisit the concept, and make it a regular feature of the blog, because why not?

So: 5 for Friday. Whet your appetite: travel back in time to read the original post, 5 Songs I Wish I’d Written.

Now, let’s journey to The WOOOOORLD OF….. well, today, with a the first entry that is actually the second entry of our brand new segment!

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YOU WILL, OSCAR, YOU WILL: THE MUSICAL

Late last I week I listened with interest as Megan Washington told JJJ listeners about the 5 songs she wished she’d written, for a regular segment of the same name I rarely catch because I’m not in the car at the time, and I don’t get to listen to the radio at work. Which got me thinking, because I’ve written my fair share of poetry, and had some of it performed, and while I haven’t yet written to music, it’s lack of an outlet rather than lack of desire that’s seen me turn to other pursuits. So, like any air guitar hero worth his tennis racket and dreams of I-coulda-ness despite knowing deep in my little back heart that JJJ ain’t ever gonna come calling, here are 5 songs I wish I’d written:

Growing up in Rockingham during the 1980s was not, you may be surprised to hear, a psychedelic journey into the heartland of musical diversity. Surfers liked Aussie Crawl; Bogans worshipped AC/DC and the Angels if they wanted something lighter; everyone loved Chisel and Baaaaaaaaahnsie; and if you didn’t like any of them you were a poofter and deserved the kicking you invariably got. Surviving High School was bad enough, but I liked Queen. I liked Bowie. I liked Adam Ant. I liked Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper. I worshipped Madness. I liked Slade, fer chrissake: what hope did I have among the Bogan Sloblords when this was the sort of thing I was grooving to?

So 1989 was a big year for me, one of the biggest. I finished High School in 1988. 1989 brought University, and an escape from Rockingham, and a widening of my personal horizons that has never, to this day, entirely abated. I discovered art, and writing, and drugs, and liberal thinking, and a whole bunch of sex tricks I’d only ever read about. I found poetry, and alternative cinema, and theatre, and music. Oh, the music. They Might be Giants and Velvet Underground and New York Dolls and the Slits and Michelle Shocked and Sinead O’Connor and on, and on, and then, in the space of a year and a bit, Guns and Roses released the Use Your Illusion double set, Metallica released the Black album, Soundgarden’s Louder than Love came along, Nirvana started doing their thing, Pearl Jam were even better with Ten, Red Hot Chilli Peppers gave us Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik… and before all that, leading them all out and blowing my fucking mind wide open……
Faith No More. The Real Thing. And this utter, utter mind fuck of a song.  Epic. 5 minutes of machine gun insanity, lyrics spat out like a staccato street poet, banshee guitars screaming in counterpoint, and then, rising out of all that mayhem and anger and gonzo lyricism, that perfect, perfect piano, fading away into a melodious death rattle….

There is nothing about this song that isn’t a sublime graffiti-poem to the death of my childhood and the effect that experiencing that tsunami orgasm of freedom had on my burgeoning consciousness. It is the anthem of my awakening, and I wish I had the art and the anger and the white-hot tiger-riding creative balls to have written it.

I’m a poet at heart.  That’s how I started out: my first sales were all poems, and I still turn to poetry when I’m feeling dry and the words won’t come. It’s the same reason that my first, and greatest, artistic love is the New Wave of the late 1960s– the whirling, skirling beats and rhythms of words and music and lines across the page that typify the period, where the rules were being broken down and re-arranged and, in so many cases, taken out to the kerb and left for passers by to take for free. Harlan Ellison and Hendrix and Roger McGough and Robert Crumb and Lester Bangs and The Pink Floyd and The Prisoner and all that artistic glory that I sucked on like a hungry baby.

Bowie is Science Fiction’s greatest poet, our highest selling artist. I could unpick the lyrics of The Bewlay Brothers into any number of images, each incomplete, each one competing with the other, each one the basis for an inferior copy. It’s a palimpsest, a mathom, a mosaic. It’s an act of artistic bravura. It’s a musical kaleidoscope, and I love its fractured imagery, its mosquito narratives. It’s psychedelic nearly to the point of caricature, before it stops just short, teetering on the brink, self-aware and laughing. I could dream for such self-control, such wild-eyed abandon. It’s not quite my favourite Bowie song, but it is the one I wish I’d written.

Ah, I do loves me a good musical narrative, and as I lack the patience and willingness to overlook bland songs and horrendous performances, my drug of choice is the concept album rather than musical theatre. One gives you The Wall and The Temptation of Alice Cooper, the other gives you The Lion King and Grease. ‘Nuff said.

So, I’m a fan of the Floyd. I love the way they developed their themes through their albums, building narratives across songs so that each song built upon what came before like short stories in a perfectly-weighted collection. I love the cracked-mirror world view they espouse, the despairing intelligence, the jaundice and pain that unfolds as Roger Waters picked obsessively at his scars, creating new scar material to pick at later, until, of course, the scars built up too much and the band members turned on each other, and themselves, and the group imploded. But for 5 albums, from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon to The Final Cut in 1983, no band in the world created such a sustained narrative. It’s rock’s great series, the musical equivalent to the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings or Gormenghast books: you can listen to them as stand-alones, out of sequence, if you wish, and still partake of their meaning. But you only get their true power if you read from beginning to end, in order, as the author intended.

So why this song in particular? It’s the quiet at its heart. There’s so much despair here, so much resignation. Whatever has been grasped for has proven out of reach, whatever has been hoped for has turned to ashes. There’s no anger here, no fire. That time has passed. It’s a song that deals with the aftermath of loss, with the cold, remorseless resignation that each individual tragedy goes unnoticed by the Universe, that no matter how great the story, how great the event that unfolded before, there is a tomorrow, and for the loser, that day will be cold and grey, and uncaring, It’s a magnificent inversion of every narrative trope, and I’ve spent so much of my career trying to capture that inversion that I wish I’d just managed to write this song and get it right the first time.

The perfect combination of anger, logic, reason, hurt, poetry and perfect, perfect pop music.

Let’s be honest: I could spend my entire career wishing I could write XTC songs. But this is the one whose lyrics resonate, whose approach sits like a slice of surgical steel in my heart. Perhaps it’s because I’m an atheist, raised by a lapsed Anglican who spent as much time angry at her lapse as at the upbringing. Perhaps it’s just because this song is the perfect example of the narrative art of inversion that I try so desperately to capture when I write– to openly reinforce a status quo through the act of inverting it, or invert that status quo by appearing to agree with it. An angry denial of belief, via writing a letter to the deity you are telling of that disbelief. It’s brilliant. It’s perfect. I could die wishing for one-tenth of its perfection.

And here is the last, and amongst all the noble intentions and high-falutin’ talk of narrative inversion and portmanteau lyricism and deep psychological insight, this is exactly what it is: a rip-snorting, balls-out, rollicking horror story told at a motherfucker-per-hour rush; an off-kilter shanty swimming in glee and hat-waving hold-onto-yerself foot to the pedal joy. It is, quite simply, the best romp I’ve ever seen set to music. Blood-soaked, laughing, drunken balladeering like it aught to be. I wish all my horror stories were this much sheer damn bloody fun. I wish I could gather this much noise and ramshackle exuberance and utter voice in one such controlled explosion. Because when it’s all stripped away, the aim is to tell a story, and entertain, and sink your audience so deep into your world they forget where they are until the wander out the other end, dazed and bleeding and reaching into their pocket for the coins to take another ride. And this is the foot-stomping, beer-swinging, head-thrown-back-and-wolf-howling apotheosis of the art. Dance, motherfucker, dance!

So, there it is. Five songs I wish I’d written. Five elements of popular lyric culture that I wish I could capture in as pure, crystalline form as the artists who originated them.

It’s all good, clean fun.