Thursday, February 09, 2006

It'll be all write on the night

It must be a nice problem to have but I do idly wonder what it must be like to be a famous writer or rock star. The thought that brought me to the keyboard this time was reflecting on how much of what I've written is informed by my life, the people I've met, the places I've been to, and the things I've done.

My particular gift in life is poetry and my Higher Self must have known this when thirty years ago I penned this contribution to the school literary magazine:

Call to the sergeant to man the guns
Here come the men of the Rising Sun
Nipponese warriors sure to have fame
Come on boys let's disprove their claim

at this point I've managed to blot the rest of this unpromising first attempt from my memory banks but I can tell you that it does something along the lines of rhyming 'heavens' with 'F-111's' thus ensuring such crapola that not even the school mag of Northam Senior High would accept it.

I didn't think I was good really; just that I enjoyed writing the stuff. There was a rip-off of J.R. Cash's Johnny Yuma, where I gave the game away by calling the song 'Johnny Yuma', there was attempts at being clever that showed strain from the first line - and critics around to tell me that they didn't like my extended piece about how an adversary won't get any gold but, hey, here's some lead (I still find the American West impossible to write well about since it is so heavily mythologised for me, having come from a very different West.) My fledgling failing also took in a sequal to a too-famous Australian ballad Botany Bay.
(by too famous I mean that, unless you have phenomenal poetic skills, the attempt is going to sound wretched in the extreme)

But you learn by your mistakes and I made plenty. I was still writing immature work into my early twenties but the first vestige of something else was beginning to show. A scrap of verse here, a line or two of song there. By this time if I'd remained a moon june loon in a cocoon it would have made no difference. I was going to keep on writing anyway.

Then from the struggle to complete a short work came a mess of verbiage. Some of the early songs that we have recorded on old cassettes are multisyllabic monstrosities (but not without a charm). When I wrote Daydreams and Nightmares and Five o'Clock Shadow Tim opined that you could make three separate songs out of that; one called 'Daydreams' one 'Nightmares' and one 'Five O'Clock Shadow' but if he was concerned about the length of the title and the stretching of the theme then what must he have thought when I'd given myself - even less assured as a vocalist - the task of coming back into the third verse with 'Biological tripwires, evolutionary witchfires'. Oh yes on the first line. And with the same schema as 'A walk on part in a Passion Play' and 'Trading places with fading faces'. I'd learnt to rhyme, now I just had to improve the scansion.

Actually those weird trundling numbers may have earned their keep in my development as a lyricist and as a singer. Now that Andrew's band are set to play their first pub gig (on my dad's 75th birthday - not that the two are connected) and Steve is eager to get some of his input into the old Catch Him and Eat Him immortalised, I was advising him that I'm starting to get an idea of what Andrew likes - I've sent him (and Tim and Steve) plenty of songs to put music to and the ones he clearly favours have a dirty blues edge to them. He's not one for the whimsical or the allegorical; thus NoGudnik are playing Face The Music and Andrew's other project, as yet unnamed, are doing Catch Him and Eat Him(the song) and Just Like Daddy. Then there's Just Passing Through, which is also on NoGudnik's playlist to practice and may even get an airing. CH&EH is the only odd one of the bunch and there is a whole other tale behind that. Oh okay I wrote it in five minutes straight when I was tripping.
Now, where was I, oh yes.. so the other songs are straightforward - absolutely anybody who listens to the words will get what's going on - but alternative in their focus. For instance Just Passing Through is about a generic passing through a country town; rather than mythologising Australian towns like Slim Dusty did (and that definitely has its place) this just speaks of a general sense of what it is like, the vague impression you get as you pass through town after town and imagine what it must be like for the people living there. I may have been buffered by the Muse from attempting something like this until I was ready because it is still something you could write lame arse country lyrics to and my song is a whole 'nother world from that.

Picking among Steve's songs I suggested Whisky, a simple maudlin tune and Lifetime Plan. He agreed with the first but said that he'd thought only I could do that leap into the chorus 'Well I..' 'Well I..' Well I guess he's right, that very element that had caused me to fuck up and miss the cue so many times when we were young had given me the ability (on a good day) to do something that other songwriters wouldn't touch. It wasn't my skill that had brought this about, it was my lack of knowing.

So anyway this whole history got started by my usual miserable musing over how I hadn't been published should have an anthology out.. grumble, grumble.. why hasn't anybody taken me aside at a poetry reading and handed me the key to featured writer world.. gripe, gripe.. and thinking to myself about Robert Drewe's oppressively dull piece on traveling across the Nullarbor with a glovebox full of speeding tickets on the way to a
yep, writing festival
Could that have been me - shit but published and read in lit classes at University instead of (eventually) good but unknown. And would I have not been able to write about loneliness if I hadn't been lonely, about being disaffected if I didn't feel that way sometimes. I never set out to self-mythologise (journal writing aside) and I only rarely write about personal experience, preferring to play with words rather than forcing them to do a dreary recount, yet what sets a poet to choose one subject over another and to see it from the angle or viewpoint that they do? I'm not starving in a garett so maybe, in a strange kind of way, this is good for me.


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