Monday, December 6, 2010

Spare me the details...

With Christmas once again approaching, I thought I’d share with you all my favourite Christmas song. It’s called “How To Make Gravy”, and it’s by an Australian singer/songwriter called Paul Kelly. He’s not the greatest singer around, but he sure can deliver a song. I don’t think he’s had a great deal of success in other parts of the world but he’s considered a legend down here. Apologies for the lack of visuals, but in the end it lets you concentrate on the words.

For me, this song works so well because it’s such a personal tale. It’s a song with a decent amount of lyrics, but still it feels perfectly sparse on detail. Kelly drops little gems with hooks, he feeds you tiny moments which are worded perfectly, allowing you to paint your own idea of the family. It’s also a very poignant insight into the dichotomy of an Australian Christmas, with our European heritage fighting against our scorching summer.

More than just being a wonderful song, though, it’s that lyrical sparseness that appeals to me so much. Certainly the twenty years I spent writing songs has infiltrated my fiction writing, to the point that I strive to cover vast subjects in as few words as possible. I think that’s why I’ve been far more successful with my short and flash fiction than with anything else so far. I think I write stories in a style that’s reminiscent of songwriting.

And while I’m at it, I’ll share with you this song. It’s by another Australian band, Cold Chisel. Again I don’t think they had any notable success in the northern hemisphere, though I believe their lead singer, Jimmy Barnes, might have pricked America’s ears up in the mid-80s.

Nearly twenty years before Ben Folds Five released “Brick”, this song told a tale about the same issue. I believe “Choir Girl” is at least as powerful, because it similarly makes it a story about people. The Cold Chisel song has no ‘stance’ to maintain, it doesn’t advocate or condemn. It simply tells a story about what must be one of the most painful decisions anyone ever has to make. And it’s darkly romantic, too. This guy is there for her, helping her through it, he’ll be there when it’s done…and he’s not even her man. “She loves me like a sister.” Again, there are details for us to glean from what’s not being said.

For me, that’s the pinnacle of wonderful writing. Let me know what’s happening…just don’t tell me.


Katie S said...

Verg interesting song choices there Willsin! I can see where your style does work with shorter stories. You let the words speak more for themselves instead of overcompensating. It works.

Now, for a laugh...Here's another Christmas classic

It's just not Christmas unless "Grandma got runover by a reindeer."


Heidi Champa said...

Love Paul Kelly. That is one of my favorites too, I think it is lyrically so amazing. He's a brilliant storyteller.

I still can't fathom a summer Christmas, but I'd love to experience one. We'll get there some day!

Willsin Rowe said...

Thanks for sharing that "classic", Katie! NO PRESENTS FOR YOU THIS YEAR!

Heidi, lovely to see you over here. Maybe it's because I know you have such affinity for Australia, but I'm not at all surprised that you love Paul Kelly. He's one of the most poignant songwriters I know. Even simple songs like "To Her Door" tell reams of story with just a single line. Fingers crossed you make it here one Christmas. I've got the kettle on, just in case!

Heidi Champa said...

Paul Kelly is just brilliant.

Anthony and I were staying in St. Kilda on our trip in 2008 and found out too late that he was playing at the Palais. We went to the footy instead and watched your Maggies kick the Cats up and down the oval.

But, on a better note, we were back at the MCG the next day at the shop, and saw Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody warming up 'From Little Things, Big Things Grow' for their performance at the Indigenous Round game that night. The security guard let us hang out for a while and watch. Amazing!!