IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO TODAY

It’s hard to understate the impact INXS had on my life. They were the first band I ever saw in concert by myself. They were the first band for whom I would call myself a fan. They were the best live band in Australia, and arguably the world. At the Australian Made concert in 1987 they came on as the headline act, after what is still the strongest concert line-up Australia has ever seen (Mental as Anything, Divinyls, Crowded House, The Triffids, the Saints, the Models, Jimmy Barnes, and more) and blew everything off stage.

For the better part of 9 years– from Shabooh Shoobah in 1982 to X in 1990, they were the band by which I measured all other bands.

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FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SERIAL KILLER SONGS

It’s no great secret that I’m fascinated by murder. My bookcases are filled with True Crime books. My DVD collection is riddled with thrillers and biopics about infamous killers. I’ve written plenty of stories involving nasty people doing nasty things to people nastily.

One little sideline that escapes notice is the number of songs in my playlist that are devoted to murderers. Serial killers in particular. The truth is, serial killers may represent the basest and most disturbed corridors of the human psyche, but there is no denying that they are a fascinating sort of maelstrom for an artist to gaze into.

So here are five of my favourite songs about serial killers from the depths of my playlist.

Enjoy.

Five for Friday: Serial Killer Songs

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TOM PETTY

Sad news today with the death from a heart attack of Tom Petty. Petty first came to my attention in the late 70s, just before punk hit the mainstream radio stations I was about to listen to in my bedroom when I could escape my parents’ AM tastes. Rock and Roll had been over-produced into a bland melange of easy listening tripe in which the likes of Chicago, Boston, and Steely Dan brought the elevator into your living room.

Petty represented a form of American rock and roll where voice was still important, where an individual sound could be identified, where an artist could have a look that stood him or her out from the beige, bearded multitude. He was at the crest of an awareness in my pre-teen self, a coterie that included the likes of Bob Seger, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett as part of my musical awakening.

I would never have said that I was, outright, a Tom Petty fan. Yet every playlist I’ve ever created has used his music as a cornerstone. He’s one of those artists who has always just been there. His music has been a consistent part of the tapestry of my life. It’s not until you isolate him from the rest of the iPod and play him, one song after another, that you realise just how many great songs he recorded, how they’ve always been with you, and how, somehow, without ever really concentrating, you know every single word of every single damn song. And you sing along. You always sing along.

So here, by way of saying thank you for the music, for being part of my tapestry, and for giving me so many joyous riffs and rock and roll moments, are 5 of my favourite Tom Petty songs. They may not be the most famous, or the acknowledged classics, but they’re 5 of the many that loosen my vocal chords. I bet you sing along.

 

1. Don’t Come Around Here No More.

My absolute favourite Petty track, and one of my favourite songs by any artist. A swirling, defiant track, it’s the perfect combination of Petty’s unique vocal delivery, guitar style, and quirky arrangements. The accompanying video is, without a doubt, one of the greatest music videos ever filmed.

 

2. Billy the Kid

This is a broken song. Petty’s voice has diminished to a croak. The guitar layovers are discordant, and loose. Nothing fits. Where Petty’s arrangements were always as tight as William Shatner’s corset, here they’re all over the place, rambling and mis-timed. And that’s why it works. It’s a portrait of a beaten fighter, rising for the last time, whispering “You never knocked me down, Ray” as he’s carried from the ring, defiant to the last. It’s wonderful stuff.

 

3. Last Dance With Mary Jane

Petty’s stock in trade was a dark Americana that played like a shadowed counterpoint to Bruce Springsteen’s more obvious work– filled with hopeless characters that accepted their fate and rolled the taste of failure around their mouths, savouring it. Springsteen’s characters went down to the river. Petty’s smoked dope and had desperate, doomed sex. This is a slow, despairing love song to a girl who escaped his dreams, but we all know that where she escaped to was just another version of where she had escaped from. It’s darkly delicious.

 

4. You Don’t Know How it Feels

The later you go into Petty’s career, the more his slides from pure rock and roll into an electrified country sound that was the perfect primer for my discoveries of Steve Earle and Todd Snider. This is a great example, full of fuck-you false humility and a love of poking at the pain centres in the artist’s own psyche.

 

5. Two Gunslingers

Two gunslingers meet in the middle of a deserted street. The ultimate symbol of Americana. Then Petty does what Petty does: twists the image into a story of loneliness, and despair, and ultimately, the rejection of a story that was written by others with the hero as unwilling and un-consulted victim. There’s hope at the end: battered and damaged hope, flickering only because the characters reject their assigned roles in favour of a sort of despairing unknown.

 

Tom Petty was a unique voice, a dark jester who picked apart the false nostalgia of the Bruce Springsteens and John Cougar Mellencamps and laughed at its pretensions. He coloured my sense of what a rock and roll song could do, without me ever really noticing or valuing it as I should. He will be missed.

 

 

 

 

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.

DAMN YOU, WORLD FOR YOUR LACK OF TORRENTS!

Lyn and I went on a bit of a Youtubery nostalgia trip yesterday, watching vids by the likes of Schnell Fenster, Machinations, Daddy Cool and Billy Thorpe while the kids tried their best to ignore us. Let me tells ya, batterspals, I will proclaim Friend for Life for anyone willing to burn me some Painters & Dockers and send me the CD (and, you know, I’ll pay for postage).

Love ém love ém love ém.