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Study Boost: Songs a gold mine

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by Glenn Mitchell
February 19, 2007 12:00am
SINGER-songwriter Paul Kelly regards songs as the oldest form of poetry. As he likes to point out: ”Homer sung.''
He also regards John Keats and William Shakespeare as keys to his move into songwriting, because they turned him on to language.
”Keats' Ode to a Nightingale is my favourite poem. William Shakespeare is my favourite writer. They made me fall in love with languages,'' he says. Although Kelly obviously does not regard himself in the same league as the aforementioned, his book, Don't Start Me Talking: Lyrics 1984-2004 has made it on to the VCE text list.
Kelly's lyrics are examined for their themes, critical reception and poetic techniques.
Songs from albums including Post, Gossip, Under the Sun through to the 2004 release Ways and Means are examined.
Kate Judith, the author of a companion study guide, says Kelly's lyrics are a perfect choice for a VCE text, first because many students know the songs, and second for the “hidden treasures'' found in his lyrics.
”VCE students will be able to relate to the songs on a physical and emotional level, but they will also be able to delve into the lyrics to find why they relate to them,'' she says.
”It's the same as in poetry where you find the hidden treasures, so it becomes a voyage of discovery. You find the symbols and the messages waiting to be discovered. With lyrics, it's the same. But the lyrics have to have those symbols and messages to make them work.''
Judith says Kelly uses many poetic techniques to help him express mood and meaning. “There are various symbols and metaphors that Paul uses to convey meaning,'' she says.
”This is the same as poetry, but Paul's lyrics have the added attraction of what lyrics can mean to people.''
Kelly says his inspiration comes from other songs and what people say.
”That's always been the case. I've collaborated more musically in recent years as I try to break my limitations as a rudimentary musician,'' he says.
Kelly says the themes to his work include sex, death, memory, love, family, friends and time.
Of his songwriting method, Kelly told Learn: “Music usually comes first. Doodling around on the guitar and jamming with the band -- then I try to get words to fit it.
”I don't have an organised method. If I knew how to write songs, I'd write one every day. It's a kind of stumbling around in the dark and it always feels like a fluke.''
Judith says Kelly does not seek to push any message or intent on to students through his lyrics.
”He's not trying to get people to think or feel a particular way,'' she says.
”It's very much up to the students to interpret his lyrics in their own way.''

Neap smartstudy -- Don't Start Me Talking: Lyrics 1984-2004, by Kate Judith
www.neap.com.au for more information

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