My friends G, J and I all used to go to gigs, but since having kids this has proved more and more difficult. So a while ago we decided that we would take it in turns, once a month, to choose a gig for us all to go to.
Last month, we went to a solo gig by Kim Salmon at the Empress in North Fitzroy. For those of you who don’t know Kim Salmon (and didn’t bother clicking on the link above) his band The Scientists (another link to click) were a punk and later swamp blues band in the late seventies and early eighties whose influence was bigger than their profile. For example, Salmon claims to have been the first person to use the word grunge in relation to a musical style (he also claims to have invented the question mark).
Here are the Scientists on Countdown.
What a difference thirty years can make. At the Empress there were only about 20 people in the audience (and let’s be honest, it wasn’t a pretty crowd), and Salmon must have wondered how things had come to this – though to his credit, he came across as cheerfully resigned, rather than bitter. Some of his songs translated well to solo performance, others sounded pretty awful – and if you weren’t familiar with the originals, they sounded even worse.
Now as we all know, only boring people get bored, so about three songs into his set I started racking my brain for a way to redeem the experience. The answer, as always, was to reframe what I was witnessing as black comedy. It had everything from cruel heckling (someone shouted out ‘Meatloaf’ at one point), to the obligatory tubby, lone dancer, to awkward forgotten lyrics moments, to gratuitous name dropping, to overenthusiastic (and consistently ignored) request shouting. There were also just enough compelling glimpses of what used to be to leaven the mix, and make it heroically tragic rather than just pathetic. It even had the perfect anti-climactic ending. At the end of the one song encore, Salmon pulled out a small box of his old records, sat with his legs hanging off the end of the stage and tried to sell them himself.
On the way home, I tried to imagine the kind of songs that I would have to write if I were going to create a washed-up-old-punk-rocker show of my own (based on what I had just witnessed), and came up with the first verse of the following. In the show, it would, of course, be accompanied only by a beaten up Telecaster, and sound absolutely nothing like this.
What strikes me as I listen back to this, is how hard it is to break out of the very deep lyrical ruts that the decades old currents of songwriting have formed. The rut I most often fall into, as exemplified by this song, is the melancholy-tale-of-lost-love rut, and boy is that a deep one. Over five years into a relationship with a woman that I am still completely in love with, I still find that songs of happiness and contentment elude me. Even the song I wrote for our wedding day focussed on the life-threatening neuro-surgery that Susie had in the early part of our relationship. You see what I mean? Perhaps it is a washed-up-old-melancholy singer songwriter show that I need to write instead? The problem with this, of course, is that it would be indistinguishable from one of my usual gigs.
To be fair though, since becoming a father, I have been trying to beat out new lyrical paths. In previous posts you will have come across some of the parenting songs I have written since Tilly was born, and some of them are a bit cheerier than what I normally dish out. Still, melancholy habits die hard, and I still tend to find myself focussing almost exclusively on the darker aspects of the parenting experience.
I suspect there is more to this than temperament, habit and historical precedent. Sad songs have always seemed somehow safer (try saying that with your tongue between your teeth). Unlikely as it sounds, I actually feel less vulnerable singing about pain and loss, than about joy and gratitude. Perhaps that’s because it seems much harder to be ridiculed for representing the negative, than representing the positive. Tragedy might be the only thing you’re allowed to be serious about these days. I certainly find, in writing this blog, that every time I catch myself being too positive or too serious I feel enormous pressure to undercut what I’m saying with a self-satirising joke (usually in brackets).
It’s interesting to consider how often we allow ourselves to say anything positive about ourself, or our child, or our experience of parenting. I don’t do it, or hear it, very often. Whereas, if I had a dollar for every worst sleeper, worst eater, longest tantrum competition I have witnessed (or participated in) I would be able to buy the Black and Decker Wet-and-Dry Dustbuster we need, because of what an incredibly messy eater Tilly is.
Speaking of shameless product placement, the other day I met a friend who told me about this bloggers breakfast that takes place in Melbourne, for bloggers who are parents. At the breakfast, businesses that sell baby stuff give presentations on their products in the hope that they will be mentioned in blogs (it’s just like those pharmaceutical company dinners for doctors). I really want to be invited now; mainly so I can blog about it, but also because Mr. Thrifty loves a free breakfast.
That’s why I’m going to start mentioning baby related products in my blog. I’m hoping that these companies have that amazing software the Chinese government uses to track down pesky dissidents. You know, the kind that can trawl through billions of emails and blog posts looking for words that might suggest contempt for the Chinese way of life; words like ‘democracy’, ‘reform’ and ‘fork’. Except in this case they are using the software to find bloggers who mention ‘Huggies’, ‘Bugaboo’ and ‘Mouche Bebe’ (apparently this is a French device for sucking the snot out of babies’ noses. My friend, L, decided to send me one after my recent Just for the Record post.)
Once again, I have written my way into a corner, so to distract you from the fact that this post has no ending, I’ll give you two pieces of homework (did I mention that I am a teacher?)
Task 1 – Be positive!
Task 2 – Tell me what the link is between the title of this post and the book ‘The Titanic Verses’?