“I don’t really talk dirty to be dirty. It’s just a way of communication. Some people are just born cussers.”
At various times in my life, I’ve taken on different songs as themes. Little anthems that seem so plugged into how I felt that I could almost have written them myself, had I the musical skill/ genius/ time/ ability to stay out of the bar long enough/ ability to withstand solitude/ I could make a million excuses/ ability to stop making excuses…
Theme songs find us in two distinct ways. Or at least that is how it has always been for me. The first way is the best way. A perfect song, discovered in the perfect place, at the perfect time. A lightning bolt. An explosion of your spirit.
The second, more common method is to rediscover an old song when you are ready for it. Sometimes the rediscovery is a happy accident. Other times it is a deliberate seeking out. It’s all good. The mystical romantic falls in love again and it’s all Stevie Nicks Rooms On Fire. The jilted heart wants to break over and over again and so it loops all six minutes and forty-seven bitter seconds of Elvis Costello’s I Want You.
I’m always thinking about music and I’m always over-sharing. Because of this, most of my themes find their way onto the blog or the radio show. But I would love to know what other people’s themes are. Other people do this, surely?
When I was growing up, my Mum would amend the lyrics to Paul Kelly songs to match them up with her circumstances. It was funny and cute. But also sad and beautiful. In ‘To Her Door’, the number of children in the song’s soon to be broken home was multiplied thus:
They got married early
Never had no money
Then when he got laid off
They really hit the skids
He started up his drinking
Then they started fighting
He took it pretty badly
She took seven kids
At the moment, I’m fixated on a Joni Mitchell song. It’s not the first one of hers that I have found myself drawn to, even though it took me many, many years to get over my initial uncertainty about whether or not I even liked her. Certainly ‘A Case Of You’ and ‘Both Sides Now’ have been up there as themes. But at the moment, I’m on vacation and I’m all romantic and wild-eyed and so I’m here:
If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love you
You turn me on
I’m a radio
I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
For The Long Haul: Obsessive Compulsive Romantic Seeks Faraway Country For Enduring & Impossible Love Affair
Twenty hours in the air might seem like a long trip for some. Too far to go for a holiday. Too many hours in transit. Too much expense – of time and dollars – only to land and have your body-clock feel as though it’s been fucked sideways for about three to five days. It is a long way, yes.
I’m on the road at the moment. I have been for about three weeks. For better or worse, it means I’ve shaken the feeling of being fucked sideways. But when you’re on the road and you’ve traveled many, many hours to be somewhere, you are constantly asked by locals about time in the sky, so you spend a dumb amount of time thinking about it.
How do you cope?
Is it worth it?
Why would you do it?
I always say the same thing, a little monologue about my homeland, how it is nestled way down at the bottom of globe. Far from London. Far from Paris. Far from Rome. And far from America of course, a distance I have known too well for too many years. I have never been to London. I have never been to Paris. I have never been to Rome. But, oh how I have been to America.
I am nothing if not obsessive compulsive.
I have walked jet-lagged and bleary-eyed and dumb-struck on American streets so often. Too often? Perhaps too often. The trick when flying far is how you divide the time.
Two weeks ago: Sydney to Seattle via LAX (Swift’s Adventures in America: Trip Four, aka Too Early To Be Named Yet But Off To A Bloody Good Start)
*Arrive at the airport stupidly early because you’re stupidly excited.
*Consume five processed meals, six in-flight films and more than a few standard drinks.
*Have a brief nap but wake with enough time to obsess over a song or two, re-imagine an old love and remember why it’s an old love.
*Stop-over in LA and stretch legs, fire off an excited email or four and cue your favourite traveling song on the iPod so that when the plane that’s become the second leg of your journey takes off, you can let the excitement outweigh the exhaustion:
Four months ago: Sydney to New York via Vancouver, Montreal and Prince Edward Island (Swift’s Adventures in America: Trip Three, aka In The Interests Of Diversity – For The Love Of God – Go Further North)
*Arrange to meet an old flame in Vancouver. Obsess over this for the entire distance between Australia and Canada. It will kill the hours more quickly than you could ever know.
*Decide old flame is a bit of wanker.
*Drink. Meet new flames. Watch bands. Repeat until you arrive in NYC:
One year and five months ago: Sydney to New York via LAX (Swift’s Adventures in America: Trip Two, aka Seven Days In Total Is A Stupid Length Of Time To Try And Do This)
*Stay out until four in the morning in Sydney the night before and arrive at the airport with a half-packed bag, almost no dignity and certainly no sleep.
*Sleep all the way from Sydney to Los Angeles.
*Miss connecting flight to New York and become stranded in LA:
Three years, three months ago: Los Angeles to Sydney (Swift’s Adventures In America: Trip One, A Lesson In Breaking Your Own Heart, Really, Properly, Better Than Any Man Could)
*Fall head over heels for the country you are about to leave so much so that even the thought of getting on a plane home makes you feel unshakably sad.
*While waiting around LAX, in between drinking margaritas and staring vacantly at ugly airport walls, use public computers constantly and pick up swine flu.
*Sniffle all the way home, happy and sad and confused, love-sick and actually, really pandemic sick.
*Decide to find out how many times Steve Earle’s Fearless Heart can be played on a 14 hour flight.
*Land sleepless on the tarmac in the mother country. Feel a dumb sense of awe and happiness and craziness restored with the knowledge that LA to Sydney is not merely a 14 hour flight to you anymore. It’s 206 plays of Fearless Heart.
I love the sound of breaking glass
Deep into the night
I love the sound of its condition
Flyin’ all around
The words and melodies of English songwriter Nick Lowe first came to me in the same sweet period as Patti Smith Group, Elvis Costello and The Ramones. Not an unusual story I guess, since all those artists were roughly grouped together in one way or another in the late seventies. Except of course that I wasn’t yet born, so the possibility of being on trend was something of an impossibility. Let’s fast forward. It was about 1989 or 1990, which would have made me eight or nine years old, small framed and freckle-skinned and relieved to have finally grown out the bowl-cut hair disaster of 1987. My favourite item of clothing was a pair of acid wash jeans with floral patches.
I was showing the first signs of some kind of obsessive compulsive music disorder, which was mostly evidenced by the number of times I’d recorded The B-52’s Love Shack on a 120 minute VHS cassette just so I could play it back to back, again and again, in some sort of vague hope that if I watched Kate Pierson enough I’d eventually become her. I must have been driving my parents insane.
Although I’m not too reliable on the memory front – most of my high school years, my senior year excluded, have become a forgettable blur and all of my time at university is a jumble of interchangeable semesters – the period I discovered Nick Lowe is a sunset polaroid: white-framed and golden and permanent. I remember lying awake at night, all night, listening to the radio. I remember my sister’s constant frustration from the bunk above that I wouldn’t turn it off. I remember our lilac painted bedroom, red navigation lights flashing on a not too distant sea outside the window.
We lived in a three bedroom brick veneer home that must have been built in about 1975. It had all the suburban ugliness that that decade would allow. Brown faux wood laminate bench tops, copper coloured door handles, orange carpet… in the kitchen. And living in that space, it seems perfect now to recall that wedded though I was to the chart hits of the day, I was also in the first flush of a love affair with our parent’s haphazard, late seventies skewed record collection and quietly raiding it whenever I got the chance.
Some kids had parents who were precious about things like LPs, but fortunately for me, Ma and Pa’s many drunken parties had meant that almost all the albums (especially the good ones) were scratched beyond belief and I could explore without fear of discipline. Hell, they were hippies. I did everything without fear of discipline. And so away I went, thumbing through vinyl and marveling at the soft hum of the record player and getting musical crushes that would last longer than I could ever have imagined.
Cue: That Summer! The soundtrack to a 1979 film I’ve never seen but whose songs have stayed with me for more than twenty years. The album featured Elvis Costello ‘Watching The Detectives’ and ‘(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea’, Patti Smith Group ‘Because The Night’, Wreckless Eric ‘Whole Wide World’, The Ramones ‘Rockaway Beach’ and Nick Lowe’s brilliant ‘(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass’.
I (loved) (loved) (loved) ‘(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass’.
It goes like this:
The thrill of the piano trill against the driving bass and the beguiling, detached delivery of an almost pleading lyric:
I love the sound of breaking glass
Especially when I’m lonely
I need the noises of destruction
When there’s nothing new
I’m in New York at the moment and Nick Lowe is everywhere, enjoying a kind of popular resurgence off the back of a new album, an aptly titled return to form called ‘The Old Magic’ and about to play a much publicized North American tour with Wilco. Along with all the many things I look forward to getting around to in this city (thrifting, drinking, getting a tan) I can’t wait to hear the sound of breaking glass.
If you are stateside, you can check out the Nick Lowe/ Wilco tour dates here.
If you would like to download the That Summer! soundtrack, it is available here.
And if you would like to hear more vintage Nick Lowe…
For the next two months, I am taking leave from radio duties in Australia to spend some time in America. This is my fourth trip in three years, so to say I love the place feels like something of an understatement. Free pour, fries with everything, dim-lit bars, I love-love-love it. Feels like home. Don’t get me wrong – I adore Sydney. Great people, beautiful beaches, perfect climate. But I never feel like the city and I are having a kind of grand romance. I get to the US and almost immediately my heart falls through the floor. Normal people fall in love with other people. I’m a geography teacher’s daughter. I’m wooed by places.
On various trips, I’ve driven through the Grand Canyon in a convertible with my best friend, watched the bats fly over Austin at dusk, lost money in Las Vegas, thumbed the Dylan Thomas plaque outside New York’s Chelsea Hotel. You could fall in love with those things. That would be normal. But it’s the joy found in the unremarkable things that makes me certain I’m head over heels. Or crazy. Or both. Evidence?
I cried in a supermarket in Seattle yesterday. No good reason, of course. A nice young man behind the deli counter asked if I was okay. How do you explain that you’re so happy you have to cry about it? Worse still, how do you explain that the tears were triggered by the in-store radio’s perfectly timed back-to-back classics – Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’, followed by Tom Petty ‘American Girl’.
Last week I had a great surprise. No, I didn’t win Lotto or wake up with the sudden ability to tap-dance. Fingers crossed those surprises are still to come. But I was asked to guest program an alt-country special for triple j’s Roots N All program. Going to air every Thursday night from 10pm, Roots N All is a three-hour specialist program that is broadcast nationally. It was a huge honour to be asked to host the show and putting it all together was a blast, so big love to the wonderful folk at triple j who made it happen and also to all the listeners who tuned in on the night.
If you missed the show, you can stream it here up until this Thursday July 28.
Additionally, you can also check out the playlist on triple j’s website.
Some highlights from the show included brand new music from Wilco, Dawes, Vetiver, Those Darlins and Tiny Ruins. I also played some old favourites like Ryan Adams and Silver Jews, country covers legends The Pigs reworking Beyonce and two songs with ‘Motherfucker’ in the title. Good times.