Tag Archives: music

They’re Playing Your Song: Little Soundtracks For Everyday People

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:

Joni Mitchell – You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio

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

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Cat Power, Newcastle Entertainment Centre

 

January 9, 2009

It’s with awkward anticipation that I venture by train from Sydney to Newcastle to catch Cat Power. I’m excited, because the husky cover versions that have dominated Chan Marshall’s most recent set lists are sublime, intelligent reinterpretations of some of my favourite songs. But I’m also nervous, because the last time I saw her perform in Sydney a little more than four years ago, the singer was at the peak of a much publicised breakdown. Frail and tormented she stopped and started her way through songs, nervously muttered in between and spent the whole performance (which was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking) looking distinctly like she wanted to be somewhere else. I spent the night in awe of her talent and mesmerised by her vulnerability but also feeling like a pervert, indulging in the sadness of a stranger.

This time around, Cat Power is thankfully joined by the talented, charming and too-cool-for school four-piece the Dirty Delta Blues. With Jim White from The Dirty Three on drums, and Judah Bauer from Blues Explosion on guitar, the once solo songstress seems more relaxed as she delivers her opening song, a breathy cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Her vocals are divine, she smiles nervously at the besotted audience, it’s a promising start. And from there, the Southern belle of down and out indie folk doesn’t disappoint. She’s charming, shy and effortlessly sexy, no more so than when she breaks into her version of the Lee Clayton classic ‘Silver Stallion’. As a devotee of Outlaw Country, The Highwaymen version of this song is pretty erotic to my ears. But when Cat Power drawls over the lines “just a touch of sadness in his fingers/ thunder and lightning in his thighs” it as though the whole room is a quivering pre-orgasmic mess.

Overall, the show is an engaging and endearing performance of cover versions, peppered with originals.  She wraps up the gig with a bluesy version of ‘I Don’t Blame You’ from 2003’s You Are Free. The song is almost unrecognisable now it has been given the full treatment by band, and makes the perfect end to the evening. It is still unmistakeably Cat Power but like the songstress herself, a little bit stronger and a little more mature.

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