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.

CROSS-GENERATIONAL HEAD BANGING

I’m working in the office. Aiden is on the couch watching the Foo Fighters Live at Wembley concert film. Suddenly he starts shouting at me to get in here, quick! So I haul in there. It’s the Foo Fighters. I’m not a fan. What am I going to be interested in?

Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones guest spot. Rock and Roll in front of 86 000 screaming fans.

86 000 fans going absolutely apeshit, plus two blokes in Clarkson, plus Dave Grohl bouncing around the stage in absurdly grinning fanboy heaven with the words Look at me, I’m drumming for Led Fucking Zeppelin! appearing above his head in thought bubbles fifty feet high.

Totally. Fucking. Awesome.

A NOTE TO MY BEST FRIEND ABOUT THE CONTENTS OF MY PLAYLIST

Seanie, you’re my best and oldest friend, and you know how it is: some days, you don’t choose the music, it chooses you. Doesn’t matter about the screwed up face of the sour old octogenarian in the next cubicle, or the sniggers of the pony-tailed whelp in his washed-clean bandanna and his Slipknot tee. Some days, you just gotta fulfil the need: back to back, both albums, one after the other.

It’s been seventeen years, old friend, since that summer break we spent camped out at your place because your parents had gone to Europe or somesuch for three months and you had the run of the place: French doors open, couple of hundredweights worth of pool salt making the water too acidic to swim in, a diet of nachos and whatever the 7-11 had available… and two brand new CDs on constant rotation, 24 hours a day, for the entire break. Seventeen frigging years! Can you believe it?

Some days, the music chooses you, and Friday morning, at this work I’m forced to attend, surrounded by these people, oh, it was necessary.

It’s been seventeen years, Seanie, and even though I haven’t put them on for years, I still prefer Use Your Illusion II.

FOO TO YOU, PAL

*Edit: After correspondences, Aiden has asked me to remove some passages from this post.*

I still remember the first concert my brother and I ever went to on our own. Back in the day, local radio station 96fm held a series of concerts. At the age of 12, I saw INXS, Ganggajang and Boom Crash Opera for the princely sum of $9.96.

By the time I was 15, I was a vet: I saw the Angels at the Entertainment Centre when I was 15, along with my girlfriend, my best friend, and my 12 year old brother, who achieved somewhat legendary status amongst my friends by virtue of falling asleep in the middle of the concert.

What’s all this got to do with anything? Well, Aiden is 15.

Up until the middle of last week, he was going to see The Foo Fighters in concert last night. He had two tickets. Things happened. Upshot: no tickets.

The concert was last night. Aiden’s first concert (okay, we won’t mention the free Vanessa Amorosi concert in the mall that his Mum took him to a few years back, or the Mentals concert earlier this year where he spent the entire time roaming the playground with mates. This was his first real 8000-of-us-all-together-in-a-giant-mosh-pit-in-a-whopping-great-stadium-with-the-smoke-and-the-light-show-and-the-support-bands-and-all-the-trimmings proper damn concert) and now he was going to miss out.

Fuck that.

The concert was sold out. I mean, duh, how long before a band this size comes back to Perth? I missed Pink Floyd in ’87 and they never came back. Madonna’s been once, and never again. Paul McCartney’s been once. Pearl Jam came on the back of their first album and then it was something like 15 years before they returned. Hell, even They Might Be Giants haven’t been back in over 6 years (Are you listening, John? John? Johns? Fellas?) We’re talking, potentially, once in a lifetime.

The ticket agency couldn’t help. Lyn’s brother Raymond used to work in venue security. Did he know anyone? Unfortunately, no. Lyn’s best friend’s daughter had mentioned a spare ticket a while back! Sold it. One by one, the possibilities dried up.

3pm, the day of the concert, a workmate turns to me: they might have a spare ticket. You still need one? Oh God, yes. Give her an hour, she’ll see what’s happening and call me. An hour later, she calls: no luck. The spare ticket has been promised to someone else after all. I’m disappointed, but grateful she tried. That’s it, really. I’m dry. Out of leads. Stick a fork in me and all that…

Lyn’s been trawling Ebay for some funky PJs for Connor. As a last resort, she decides to check for Foo Fighters tickets.

4.50pm. 2 hours before the concert starts, she finds one. 30 minutes drive away. Fuck me.

Aiden has it in his hands 45 minutes later. A couple whose babysitting options fell through that morning. It’s been on Ebay all day, 15 bucks cheaper than cost. Not a single bid, until us.

Is that providence, or what?

We were at the concert with 20 minutes to spare.

Was Aiden happy? Did he actually sing “I’ve got a golden ticket” as we drove up? 🙂

Aiden rocked out, and I sat in the Burswood Resort food hall for three hours: worked on some AHWA mentorship stuff, read from Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Werewolves, and watched Newcastle down Sunderland 2-0 (shitbuggerbuggershit. Not that I care about Sunderland, but I have a triple digit IQ so I’m not allowed to be a Newcastle fan…).

Aiden left the concert half-deaf, clad in a tour t-shirt, and though he will refuse to admit it, fell asleep in the car on the way home. Yes. He was happy.

Engage smug mode……. smug mode engaged.