December 13, 2010

I breathe and wait to sink below the water line.

It comes, eventually.

I wait again.


At the start of the year I made a playlist (playlists…..bah…..I miss making a proper mixtape – the way it would take half a day, compared to the 5-10 minutes it makes to make a playlist- but now I’m getting all Nick Hornby on you and I’m not some fucked up John Cusack type.  I’d like to FUCK a fucked up John Cusack type, but I aint one.)

Where was I?  There was a LOT of punctuation in that last sentence and I totally lost my way.


At the start of the year I made a playlist that I could go running to.  That’s right, I run.  I also lift 20kg weights now, cos I’m a BADASS.  I am, I swear to you. So don’t fuck with me, cos I’ll fuck you right back.  And not in a fucked up John Cusack way.   So I made this playlist and then I was all “omigod I can’t run to this freakin playlist cos it’s all Josh Pyke and Paul Kelly with a bit of Beyonce thrown in and my legs keep wanting to slow down and then they get shocked when all of a sudden I’m being told to ‘pat my weave.'”  The playlist had to go.  In fact it had to go SO much that I ended up buying the Lady Gaga album.  I know.  I bought it online though, so no one will ever see the CD on my shelf.  The internet.  It’s so good for secret shame, isn’t it?  I love you, internet!  The one song I had to leave on though, nestled in beside black Barbie and her angry little Skipper, was From St Kilda To Kings Cross.  This is, for me, the song to end all songs.  Here are the places I’ve travelled to and listened to it this year.

  • Sydney – walking through the back of The Rocks, down to Millers Point…sandstone and water reminding me of home, chisel marks and waves.  Beer and honky tonk piano.
  • Brisbane – bubble headed geckos, The Wire, beautiful singers, wonderful director, lost childhoods.
  • Dubbo – cheerleaders, screaming monkeys, two dollar pants…a gibbon welcoming us to his show.
  • Mount Isa – riots in schools, loneliness and displacement by the river, truck drivers with easy horns…kittens and cats, cats and kittens, bedbugs and internet limits.
  • Townsville – black cockatoos eating snacks on the Strand, Beavis and Butthead in the classroom, Mr Mudcrab, car cheese, the Malteser and I valiantly attempting to move through waves to coral reefs…sunlight bouncing off the ocean floor..greens, blues, red, violet.
  • Moranbah – bingo, poker, survivor, I’m a totem, puppies, roadside ornaments, men with kind eyes…the keyboard provided to me is delivered by an old guy with a ute, has barely 4 octaves, no keyboard stand and no pedal.  But he made sure he got the headphones for me.  Dusty, scratchy.
  • Dysart – sadness, bleakness, practising piano in a disused hall with an apricot sunset and cockatoo choir.  Frankenstein two keyboards together to make one that will do what I need it to do.  “What the fuck is HE looking at?”
  • Clermont – practising piano in a supremely loved hall, chocolate polished floorboards.  A lagoon where 150 years ago the local Indigenous population were jained to the trees.  An outside jail.  Sometimes fed, sometimes not.  An elder begins singing.  Wailing and patient, he sings in the floods and the town as it stood destroyed.  Paris Cafe.  Evil goose giving me the evil eye.  No one is brave when faced with the evil goose.  I try to avoid his eye for fear of turning into a pillar of salt.  Jack Russells.
  • Adelaide – “You’re all kinds of wonderful, aren’t you?”…cha-CHA, dips and spins.
  • Melbourne – books and friends.  Pizza, pilates and scones.
  • Launceston – my heart soared as we touched down in my homeland.  This island buzzes inside me and even though I haven’t lived here since 1998, my insides buzz every time I come back.  It is my home, my Eden.  It always will be.  When I die, pack my ashes in fireworks and explode them over Spikey Beach.  There is nowhere else I’d rather spend my end days.
  • Hobart – Home.  Quiet euphoria.  Friends, babies, music.
  • Ballarat – lazy breakfasts, lazy dinners.  Isabelle Allende.
  • Bendigo – llamas, family, long baths in giant tubs, childhood confessions, marvelling at the llama whisperer.  Textiles, textures, everything screaming to be touched.
  • Sale – I look at this place through the Malteser’s eyes.  First as a married man and then as a man abandoned.  Bereft.  I cannot wait to leave.
  • Shepparton – people with vision, kids with spunk.  Beer and movies and friendships emerging.
  • Albury – family and markets.
  • Cowra – windy streets, red brick houses.  Craft shops on every corner with ladies who know what they’re talking about.  Sausage dogs. I see my first proper water rat…marsupial and webbed, it looks like an evolutionary throwback.  The sausage goes bananas.
  • Griffith – a vaulted grand piano.  Audition tedium.
  • Orange – daphne floods the cold cold air…wine, coffee…it feels cold like home.  This is good.
  • Armidale – my bed is a delicious mouse nest.
  • Coffs Harbour – an apartment that smells like dozens of salty kidded families.  I’m working, but this place forces me to feel holiday-ish.  Night time beach bonfires, I find a log as thick as my leg.  I dig it out and drag it back, excited and expectant.  I am Jack Russell in human form.
  • Grafton – lemon meringue, chocolate pots, lemon macadamias, trips to Byron, thesis corrections distracting me from essential rom-com viewing.
  • Port Macquarie – coastal walks, political and theatrical scandals, and my search for whales continues.  Everyone sees them but me.  Maybe I want to see them too much.  They sense my almost-patheticness.
  • Newcastle – family, living through my brother’s first night shift…lying awake wondering how he’s feeling.  I could never be paid to stay awake.  Never.  He is amazing.
  • Wollongong – op shops, op shops, op shops…black capes and red onsies.  Toy guns and green short shorts.  Absinthe flaming down my throat.  More than middle aged drag queens.
  • Wagga Wagga – family, shoes, lovingly weighted lunches.
  • Narranderra – traviata pinata, car park cricket, bbqs, first edition novels, teenage football with teenage tears, family, debauchery, impromptu mardi gras at the pub, overloaded pink boats, pig sheds, performing Verdi while wrapped in a giant man’s dressing gown.  My Bulldogs lose.  Again.
  • Canberra – friends, debauchery and tears.

All up, close to 35, 500 kms.  That’s right, that’s the right amount of numbers there.  As the tour went on, and more beer was drunk, and more opening night cheese eaten, and more sleep ins needed, my running playlists were more like sitting in the bus nursing hangovers and knitting toys for people playlists.  Still pretty good playlists.  But I probably didn’t need to get rid of Josh Pyke.  He so dreamy…..

I have been on tour for 228 days straight.  And now it’s done.


Memory 1. (Which isn’t so much a memory of when I heard this song, but more of a memory of tinier times brought up by listening to it)

Dad said it about a dozen times as our heads found the surface.  “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.”  I gasped air into my lungs and looked at him.  He was a mole, squinting and peering.  “My glasses, I’ve lost my bloody glasses.  Get your mother.”  I screamed for her, a tiny dot at the end of the beach, a woman completely oblivious to what had just happened.  Upside down in the water, thunder in my ears, clawing for sand or sky or my Dad and with each swipe coming away empty handed.  Rolling, rolling, rolling.  I still stay away from surf.  I started crying as Mum came closer, both from adrenalin and from the excitement that now that Dad had lost his glasses maybe he would need a guide dog.

The rest of our holiday in St Helens was spent with me testing Dad’s vision…..what’s my mouth doing now? Fish lips, wide mouth, fish lips, wide mouth…..and choosing names for our guide dog.  And then we went home and I told people we were getting a dog and that my Dad was now officially blind and then Dad got new glasses and that was the end of my guide dog dreams.

Memory 2.

I really want to go in but the surf looks scary.  Every couple of waves I see him, my Malteser, sailing up and over a wave, arms glowing white and windmilling like he’s trying to hold his balance.  Even though he’s in the surf.  Even though he can’t touch the bottom.  A guy comes up to me: “Do you know that guy?”, pointing to the windmill….”cos he looks like he’s in trouble.  Is he in trouble?”  No, I say, he’s not in trouble.  That’s just the way he is.

The guy ambles off, all boardshorts and abs, and I look back out at my beacon.  He was so scared to start, so nervous about the water, but look at him now.  Look at him!  A wave slaps my thigh, and I retreat.


November 23, 2010

This song has never resonated with me.

Talking in songs makes me shy.

So shy.

BUT – I have something to say about this song now, I have a place inside me that resonates with it.

Here are the first few lines of Paul Kelly’s song:

“Sydney, 1926, this is the story of a man, just a kid in from the sticks, just a kid with a plan.  St George took a gamble, played him in the first grade.  Pretty soon that young man showed them how to flash the blade.”

Last week I realised this happened in Petersham Park, not twenty metres from where I currently live.  The park itself is verdant, cool, home to kiddies, office types enjoying dappled sun on their lunch breaks, moreton bay figs, jacarandas, roses, clover, magpies, fruit bats, swallows, palm trees.  Petersham Park oval was opened in 1924, around the same time I think my small apartment block was built.  This morning I stepped out of my front door and imagined what it would have been like over 80 years ago.  Probably not much different.  On weekend mornings I lie in bed with the Malteser sound asleep behind me, his face buried in my neck, and I listen to the action on the oval.  As the morning moves on, the ages of the cricketers grow…voices change from alto squeals to baritonal bellows.  I try to imagine what it may have sounded like on the cricket pitch back then and decide it probably sounded exactly the same.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with books about girls travelling through time…Playing Beattie Bow, Eureka Street, Charlotte Sometimes…I occasionally still indulge these romantic thoughts when walking through the Rocks.  I’ve started indulging them here at home.  I imagine stepping out of my apartment in 1926, seeing the same trees that I see here in 2010, seeing the men gathering on the field in front of me and not knowing that the beginning of a remarkable career was about to take place.

Some photos for you:

We don’t do street signs in Petersham, we embed them into the sidewalk.

My little housie.

An avenue.

Another avenue.  We are crazy ape BONKERS for them in the ‘Sham!


Beautiful little rusted out birds.

Is it a rotunda, is it a cathedral?  Who can say.  Probably me.  But I won’t.

All palings lead to rotundas.

I think these are the cheap seats.

No, wait.  Those are the cheap seats.  Down near the fence.

Petersham Park A Reserve seating.

Petersham Park AA Reserve.  NOT ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS RESERVE.  Ploise.  We don’t do that here in Petersham.

The grandstand.  I need to come over here on a Saturday so I can get inside…

The walk.




Beggar on the street of love

November 17, 2010

– “I can’t sleep after the show”

….a line from the song previously written about, but totally appropriate to my current life.  I get home at 10.30, exhausted and wired.  A strange mix.  The show I’m currently working on is fantastic, and the final 10 minutes where I get to stand on stage and smile back at a giant room full of beaming, happy, elated faces gives me enough of a buzz that it takes me hours to wind down.  I usually creep around the house, trying not to wake anyone up, rifling through cupboards for snacks, watching the first 15 minutes of the Letterman show (the only bit worth watching).

But I thought I might write a bit more tonight, instead of my usual mooching.

I’ve decided that while I’m writing these little posts about the songs I’m not going to initially find them in my library and listen to them.  I’m going to sit in my body and see how it hums the ones that it wants to hum.  So when I read the lyrics for Beggar on the street of love today, I actually didn’t hear Paul Kelly’s voice.  I heard Jenny Morris’s.  Let me tell you, that bird is seriously underrated.  Please.  Please.  If you haven’t quietly lost your shit somewhere to The Day You Went Away, then you have a heart of coal.  Don’t argue with me, cos it’s pretty much the truth.  Her version of Beggar is so full of not just longing but exasperation.  And that’s what I love the most about it.  Until The Malteser took me under his wing, before he picked me, I was absolutely this lady on this street.  Jenny would sing to me in my 1983 Mazda and I’d think yes, Jenny, I’m right there with you.  Someone needs to cut us a fucking break and hold our hand.  And give us a little kiss on the cheek.

But I have all that now, so her longingdrenched version of this song is a reminder of what I wanted and what I have now.

It’s been a good day for me and cover versions.  I listened to a lot of Aretha Franklin today, and here are some more covers you should really get into.  She really is the high priestess of covers.  Here’s what you need, in no particular order:

  • Son of a Preacher Man (simmering, brooding, soaking)
  • I Say A Little Prayer (the best version of this song ever, hands down.  No arguments welcome.)
  • Border Song (Holy Moses)

After The Show

November 17, 2010

I don’t know this song at all, so I thought I’d type the title and Paul Kelly’s name into YouTube to have a listen. Apparently YouTube doesn’t know it either, because it suggested that this might be close to what I need:

Ummm… hmmmmm. Ya.

I won’t write many posts about the songs I don’t know, but the YouTube suggestion was too good to not post! I’m gonna sew some pants now, and listen to Aretha and Otis.

When I met Paul Kelly last year, it was kind of a big deal.  For me.  And for my best friend Ellen, but not really for anyone else. Saying you met Paul Kelly is like saying you saw Tim Rogers playing kick to kick with himself at the Alma Rd Park.  It happens.  But I’d never met him, and I’d moved to Sydney and happened to be back in Melbourne playing Schoenberg at a fundraiser for a hospital in East Timor.  And he was there with his lovely lady, who I know from singing circles.  She asked about my move to Sydney and why I’d done it.  As I swallowed down the end of my tiny party sandwich I looked at them both and thought that of all the people I didn’t know, here was someone I wouldn’t have to make things out to be better than they were.  So I said it.

“I was in love with a guy who lived in Sydney and I thought that if we lived in the same city it might work out, so I moved and it went to shit before I even got there really, but I’m there now, so I’m gonna give it a crack.”

I’m not sure I was ever that honest with my friends about my moving away.  Paul and his lady smiled and Paul said “I think that’s how most people end up in Sydney.” I know it was probably just a really nice man saying a very nice thing, but it suddenly felt like I wasn’t one silly girl, a trailblazer for fuck ups the world over, but just one member of a very populated club of grand proportions – people fucking up in the name of love and lust the world over.  And not only that, but people turning fuck ups into better situations.  It was a small moment, but it was good. 

And then we went inside and I sat down at a giant Steinway in a tiny parlour and played Schoenberg.

Today I finally got my paws on a copy of Paul Kelly’s memoirs, How to make gravy.  As I scan through the song lists, I realise just how much his music and lyrics have worked their way under my skin.  To Her Door reminds me of the Hartz Mountains in Tassie, From St Kilda to Kings Cross of the Townsville Strand, and Adelaide reminds of Adelaide.  Natch.  I’ve been thinking about Paul Kelly a lot this year, and listening to him a lot, and contemplating dropping him a line to say thanks.  But that seems a bit fan-ny and not really my speed.  So I thought that while I’m reading How to make gravy  I might write responses to the songs  I’ve never been able to get away from.  I read the first two songs this afternoon, sitting in the sun at Petersham Park (where Don Bradman scored his first professional century), across the road from my beautiful apartment, surrounded by rosellas and kookaburras, kids leaving the Fanny Durack Memorial Pool (who was this bird?  Why do I need to remember her?), girls tanning on the cricket oval (no groundskeeper to be seen today), mongrels chasing balls, jackarandas and roses in bloom.  I am feeling lonely today, but I know that this would not be rectified by my having everyone I love around me.  Everyone in my family has days like these, a possible genetic trait I hope I don’t pass onto my children.  I am learning how to ride these waves, how to not fight them, to struggle against the tidal motions of my emotional life.  I swallow the lump and read about Adelaide.


Whenever friends from my classical music world talk about Adelaide, they invariably invoke the expression and tune of the Beethoven lied, Adelaide.  Except it’s pronounced “adel-i-eeda.” And there’s an umlaut somewhere, one of those double dot things that sit above a vowel.  Don’t ask me where, I don’t know where.  Maybe above the i.  So I always feel a tiny sense of betrayal when my mind, instead of being instantly drawn to Beethoven, is drawn to Paul Kelly’s song.  The thing is, I don’t really have much of a connection to the place.  I’ve done some gigs there, stayed in amazing hotels where they brought me tiny pots of honey and asked how I wanted my eggs cooked.  I’ve walked along the poor excuse for a river (I don’t even know what it’s called) in the pouring rain with precious friends old and new, eaten the best of food and the absolute WORST.  I’ve gotten riotously drunk and had childhood heros of mine say to me: “you’re all types of wonderful, aren’t you?” Yes Phil Scott, I am.  If you say so, then I totally am.  I’ve partied pretty hard in Adelaide, but I don’t feel any affinity for the place.  But when someone mentions Adelaide to me, instantly I’m singing the chorus “Adelaaaaaaaaide, adelaaaaaaaaaide” like it’s 4am and I’m in the Macdonalds on Hindley St ordering two Fillet o Fish and YES I WANT A LARGE FRIES TOO.  I think the chorus does that to me.  If writing out the chorus to Adelaide was an aural test, I think I’d barely pass.  Those two beautiful downward moving lines.  How are they different?  Where do they go?  The memory of the melody is so vague in my mind, yet it’s rock solid. 

Me Me Me-Re-Do So. Me Me Re-Do-La So.

That’s what I think it is.  I know I could just go to a piano and bash it out, but I like the guessing and the confusion.