Talking about Paul Kelly


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Studying the lyrics of Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, will introduce you to a whole range of themes and issues this year.

Family life / relationships / human frailty…
Post, 1985 – the term “post” has a few layers of meaning for Kelly in this album – post Kelly’s childhood and youth in Adelaide, post his life in Melbourne, particularly post his involvement with the Melbourne drug culture, post the death of his musician friend, Paul Hewson who died of a heroin overdose. “post could also mean like a marker, pointing to a new direction, also a way to post his account of the world.

From St Kilda to Kings Cross is from the Post Album

From St Kilda to Kings Cross


From St Kilda to Kings Cross is thirteen hours on a bus
I pressed my face against the glass and watched the white lines rushing past
And all around me felt like all inside me
And my body left me and my soul went running
Have you ever seen Kings Cross when the rain is falling soft?
I came in on the evening bus, from Oxford Street I cut across
And if the rain don't fall too hard everything shines just like a postcard
Everything goes on just the same
Fair-weather friends are the hungriest friends
I keep my mouth well shut, I cross their open hands
I want to see the sun go down from St Kilda Esplanade
Where the beach needs reconstruction, where the palm trees have it hard
I'd give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water)
For that one sweet promenade

In this song, the narrator wishes to be back in Melbourne, as the trip to Sydney causes an almost out of body experience - "And my body left me and my soul went running." The narrator (is it Paul Kelly?) is attracted to the superficial beauty of King's Cross in Sydney where, "if the rain don't fall too hard everything shines just like a postcard" but his friends in this city are "fair weather" ones with "open hands" suggesting they are not real friends at all.
In the last stanza, the narrator reveals his yearning to return to St Kilda in Melbourne -he'd give all of glamourous Sydney Harbour for "one sweet promenade" of St Kilda Esplanade.

In Adelaide , Kelly sings about his old home town but despite the connections he feels about this location nothing could drag him back again

Adelaide

The wisteria on the back verandah is still blooming
And all the great aunts are either insane or dead
Kensington Road runs straight for a while before turning
We lived on the bend it was there I was raised and fed
Counting and running as I go
Down past the hedges all in a row
In Adelaide, Adelaide
Dad's hands used to shake but I never knew he was dying
I was thirteen I never dreamed he could fall
And all the great aunts were red in the eyes from crying
I rang the bells I never felt nothing at all
All the king's horses all the king's men
Cannot bring him back again
Find me a bar or a girl or guitar where do you go on a Saturday night?
I own this town I spilled my wine at the bottom of the statue of Colonel Light
And the streets are so wide everybody's inside
Sitting in the same chairs they were sitting in last year
(This is my town!)
All the king's horses all the king's men
Wouldn't drag me back again
to Adelaide, Adelaide, Adelaide, Adelaide...

1. What image is conjured up by the still blooming wisteria?
2. How does Kelly re create the impression of himself as a child in the first stanza?
3. Kelly’s father dies of Parkinson’s Disease when Kelly was 13. Did he anticipate his father’s death?
4. Why would he have felt nothing as he rang the church bells?
5. How do we know he really grieved for this father?
6. The third and final stanza indicate the boy has grown to young adulthood. What suggests his confidence about his environment?
7. Note the repetition of the same lines at the end of the second and third stanza but with a slight alteration. What does this alteration reveal? Why does he feel this way?
From the album Under the Sun (1987) – the single hits were “To Her Door” and “Dumb Things” – both story songs with big hearts and themes, but handled subtly

Dumb Things pg 49
Welcome, strangers, to the show
I'm the one who should be lying low
Saw the knives out, turned my back
Heard the train coming, stayed out on the track
In the middle, in the middle, in the middle of a dream
I lost my shirt, I pawned my rings
I've done all the dumb things
Caught the fever, heard the tune
Thought I loved her, hung my heart on the moon
Started howling, made no sense
Thought my friends would rush to my defence
In the middle, in the middle, in the middle of a dream
I lost my shirt, I pawned my rings
I've done all the dumb things
And I get all your good advice
It doesn't stop me from going through these things twice
I see the knives out, I turn my back
I hear the train coming, I stay right on that track
In the middle, in the middle, in the middle of a dream
I lost my shirt, I pawned my rings
I've done all the dumb things
I melted wax to fix my wings
I've done all the dumb things
I threw my hat into the ring
I've done all the dumb things
I thought that I just had to sing
I've done all the dumb things


“Dumb Things - was a big hit and has since become one of Kelly’s classics. The lyrics are a celebration of ordinary dumbness. It is an amusing song and the humour is part of the point – it is funny how we act stupidly and then feel bad about it; yet it is something everyone does. Kelly even laughs at himself “I thought that I just had to sing.”
· What does it mean to see the knives out and to hear the train coming? What figure of speech is being used here? Why was the narrator dumb?
· Why do you thing the same dumb things are repeated throughout the song?
· Explain the reference to the melted was to “fix my wings”. What does this tell us about dumbness?
· Do you think Kelly is just describing the silly things only one person does?
· Because this song adopts a humorous approach, encouraging us to laugh at the dumb things people do, is there a constructive message here?


To Her Door pg 57
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 both the kids
She said: "I'm not standing by, to watch you slowly die
So watch me walking, out the door"
She said, "Shove it, Jack, I'm walking out the fucking door"
She went to her brother's, got a little bar work
He went to the Buttery, stayed about a year
Then he wrote a letter, said I want to see you
She thought he sounded better, she sent him up the fare
He was riding through the cane in the pouring rain
On Olympic to her door
He came in on a Sunday, every muscle aching
Walking in slow motion like he'd just been hit
Did they have a future? Would he know his children?
Could he make a picture and get them all to fit?
He was shaking in his seat riding through the streets
In a silvertop to her door

1. What do the first four lines tell us about this family? How does the fast pace of the song reflect the story being told?
2. How is this also a political song?
3. Why does the wife leave? How do we know she is totally fed up? How does the direct speech reinforce this impression?
4. What alliteration do you notice in the 2nd stanza and what impact does this have on the storytelling? (The Buttery is a drug and alcohol rehab centre in northern NSW)
5. In the second stanza, what details of the narration contribute to the “ordinariness” of this situation.(Olympic is a busline)
6. In the 3rd stanza, how does the man’s physical state reflect his mental state?
7. The narration now gives the man’s perspective – what is he thinking of, how is he feeling?
8. How do we know he is now in Melbourne?



Sweet Guy
In the morning we wreck the bed
You bring me coffee black and boiling
Then we start up again and the coffee goes cold
I wake up drinking from your lips
Kisses warm and tender
And I'd give up the word just to see you smile
One things I will never understand (It's become my problem)
And it's something that's right out of my hands (My hands are clean)
What makes such a sweet guy turn so mean?
I went to town with a moody man, a handsome Dr. Jekyll
He was right by my side turning into Mr. Hyde
I ran for cover but I ran to slow; I was stitched by strangers
And they shook their heads that someone could do the things you did
One thing I will never understand (It's become my problem)
And it's something that's right out of my hands (My hands are clean)
What makes such a sweet guy turn so mean?
I must be mad, I must be crazy, everyone tells me so
Everyday I see it coming, now I'm facing the wall, waiting for the blow
In the morning you kiss my head
You say it was another
Now you're down on your knees
Begging me to forgive you please
I wake up aching from your touch
Every muscle tender
Then I look in your eyes, the way you smile
And I'm hypnotized
One thing I will never understand
(It's become my problem)
And it's something that's right out of my hands
(My hands are clean)
What makes such a sweet guy turn so mean?

Sweet Guy pg72
The narrator, a female, reflects on the violent nature of her relationship and broods over the Jekyll and Hyde transformation of her partner from someone loving and attentive into a violent man. Typical of the “battered woman syndrome”, she adopts a victim’s view claiming that it is her problem, and is happy to forgive the man after he’s bashed her.
· Significance of the opening howl?
· What do the first few lines of the song tell us about this relationship?
· Comment on the alliteration of bed / black / boiling
· What is the indicator in the first stanza that all is not right with this relationship?
· What is the effect of “…stitched by strangers”?
· What is ironic about the use of the words “touch” and “tender” in the second last stanza?
· What is the continued pattern of this relationship that the song shows us?
· How would you describe the sound of this song – ie instrumentation, pace, volume – does it change during the song?


Careless pg 78
How many cabs in New York City, how many angels on a pin?
How many notes in a saxophone, how many tears in a bottle of gin?
How many times did you call my name, knock at the door but you couldn't get in?
I know I've been careless
I've been wrapped up in a shell nothing could get through to me
Acted like I didn't know I had friends or family
I saw worry in their eyes, it didn't look like fear to me
I know I've been careless (I took bad care of this)
Like a mixture in a bottle, like a frozen-over lake
Like a longtime painted smile I got so hard I had to crack
You were there, you held the line, you're the one that brought me back
I know I've been careless (I lost my tenderness)
I've been careless (I took bad care of this)
How many cabs in New York City, how many angels on a pin?
How many notes in a saxophone, how many tears in a bottle of gin?
How many times did you call my name, knock at the door but you couldn't get in?
How many stars in the milky way, how many way can you lose a friend?

The speaker, perhaps emerging from some sort of depression, apologises to his partner / friends for not caring enough when they were making such an effort to get through to him.
· How would you describe the mood of this song?
· What is the significance of all the different ways of counting how one can be careless towards loved ones?
· Notice the phrasing in the chorus –what is suggested by this fragmented phrasing?
· What are the similes the narrator uses to describe his state of mind?
· What is suggested by the speaker’s realisation that he has been distant and self absorbed?


Everything's Turning To White
Late on a Friday my husband went up to the mountains with three friends
They took provisions and bottles of bourbon to last them all through the weekend
One hundred miles they drove just to fish in a stream
And there's so much water so close to home
When they arrived it was cold and dark; they set up their camp quickly
Warmed up with whisky they walked to the river where the water flowed past darkly
In the moonlight they saw the body of a young girl floating face down
And there's so much water so close to home
When he hold me now I'm pretending
I feel like I'm frozen inside
And behind my eyes, my daily disguise
Everything's turning to white
It was too hard to tell how long she'd been dead, the river was that close to freezing
But one thing for sure, the girl hadn't died very well to judge from the bruising
They stood there above her all thinking the same thoughts at the same time
There's so much water so close to home
They carried her downstream from their fishing; between two rocks they gently wedged her
After all they'd come so far, it was late
And the girl would keep; she was going nowhere
They stayed up there fishing for two days
They reported it on Sunday when they came back down
There's so much water so close to home
When he holds me now I'm pretending
I feel like I'm frozen inside
And behind my eyes, my daily disguise
Everything's turning to white
The newspapers said that the girl had been strangled to death and also molested
On the day of the funeral the radio reported that a young man had been arrested
I went to the service a stranger; I drove past the lake out of town
There's so much water so close to home
When he holds me now I'm pretending
I feel like I'm frozen inside
And behind my eyes, my daily disguise
Everything's turning to white

Everything’s Turning to White p81
Inspired by the short story, “So much water so close to home”, by American author Raymond Carver, the song is narrated by a woman thinking of her husband’s recent fishing trip. She is chilled by his attitude to the discovery of a woman’s body. The story haunts her, making her feel differently towards her husband. This same story also forms the basis for a new Australian film, “Jyndabine” which also uses the music of Paul Kelly on its sound track (but not this song)
· What impression do you get of the four friends driving off into the mountains with their bourbon for a weekend of fishing?
· If there’s so much water, so close to home, why have they driven 100 miles “just to fish in a stream”? What do you think is his wife’s opinion of this?
· As the men stand above the body of the dead girl, what same thoughts might they be thinking?
· How do the men rationalise what they do with the body?
· How has the narrator of this song reacted to what her husband and his friends did? How does she now view her husband?
· Why did she go to the funeral of a stranger and drive past the lake out of town?
· Why does she feel “frozen inside”?
· What different layers of meaning can you find in “There’s so much water so close to home”?



Aboriginal Issues
This Land is Mine – written with Kevin Carmody p 235 (From One Night the Moon) Structured like a dialogue, this song contrasts the white farmer’s possessiveness of his farm with the aboriginal tracker’s conception of the land. While the farmer is worried about making the land productive, the tracker sees the whole landscape as part of his being. Both speakers share a fear of dispossession.
· How does Kelly’s interchanging use of the two voices affect the reader? How is this echoed in the instruments used in this song?
· What does the title immediately reveal to the reader?
· Notice that the title is repeated by both characters. What is the effect of this?
· What is the tone adopted by the voice in the first two stanzas?
· What is revealed by the farmer’s references to his land? What effect did fences have on traditional use of the lamd?
· What is ironic about the use of the word “old” in “the old fence line”?
· What does the farmer means when he says “I’m working hard just to make it pay”? what does this further reveal about how the white farmer uses the land?
· To what does the farmer refer when he says “I signed on the dotted line”
· Examine the use of imagery in the next two line: “Campfires on the creek bed / Bank breathing down my neck.” What is the effect of Kelly juxtaposing these two lines?
· notice the introduction of the didgeridoo as the tracker begins his part.
· What does the tracker’s use of language reveal about his relationship with the land?
· The 4th stanza is the only one beginning with a new line. Why do you think this is?
· To whom is the tracker speaking in line four of stanza four?
· What is the effect of the final three lines of the poem (note the repetition)
· What is the main message of this poem?

Maralinga (Rainy Day) p36 (SA)
· The person speaking first is an Aboriginal man named Yami Lester, a real person who was blinded by radioactive fallout from British nuclear testing at Maralinga in the 1950’s. focus – Aboriginal land rights / white invasion and continuing disregard for and ignorance of the indigenous people’s relationship with the land.
· Why is Maralinga a rainy land if there’s no thunder and the trees don’t grow?
· What is ironic about the only English Edie Millipuddie’s husband’s knows? What is the effect of the repetition of these lines?

Pigeon / Jundamurra (WA) p83
· Focuses on the struggle between the aborigines and the white settlers as told by a police officer looking for a prison escapee. A similar story is depicted in the film “Tracker”. Pigeon refers to the leader of the Kimberley Jundamurra, who led the resistance and was regarded as an outlaw. Finally an aboriginal tracker was employed and Pigeon was captured and killed near Derby in 1897
· How does the police officer reveal a grudging admiration for Pigeon?
· Is “pigeon” a dignified name for a man? Who gave him that name? what is his real name?
· How is Jundamurra likened to fire?
· How would you describe the pace of this song? What does this pace reflect?

The role of “voice” within Kelly’s poetry
At times Kelly appears to adopt the role of the narrator (eg Maralinga, Pigeon Jundamurra) At other times he distances himself from the character, speaking instead in the third person. (eg From Little Things Big Things Grow)
· Compare the different role of voice in the three poems mentioned here

From Little Things Big Things Grow p107
· An inspiring tale based on historical events. On the 23rd august 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji elder, led his people off the Wave Hill cattle station operated by the Vestey pastoral organization, in protest against their wages and conditions. Their stand against injustice attracted national publicity for aboriginal land rights grievances. The strike developed into an eight-year campaign by the Gurindji for the return of their traditional lands and became a famous cause across Australia.
In 1974 the Whitlam government handed back much of the Gurindji country. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured earth into Vincent Lingiarri’s cupped hands in a ceremony symbolising the legal restoration of their lands. This is a typical Kelly song about the underdogs achieving their goals through persistence and patience.
· How does Kelly establish such a stark contrast between Lord Vestey and Vincent?
· How is Vincent’s patience demonstrated?
· Notice the instrumental piece that is played after the story has been told. How would you describe the mood of this music? What extra instrument can you notice?

Aussie Life and Identity

Leaps and Bounds p22
· How do we know the person singing this song is in a happy mood? What word is repeated and how does the use of alliteration reinforce the mood?
· Why doesn’t the singer’s feet touch the ground?
· What season of the year is it?
· What senses does the singer use to enhance is happy mood?
· Comment on the variety of instruments and voices in this song (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, harmony vocals) that support the main vocalist
· How is this song strongly located in the physical environment? How do we know this is Melbourne?

Bradman p43 – 5
Read the VATE notes
· What contrast is established between the first and the second stanzas?
· What is the effect of the simile “like a tide”?
· What do you notice about the second stanza as you read the rest of these lyrics? What is the effect of this?
· Note the exaggerated references to the defeats the Australians suffered in the late ‘20s. How does Kelly describe what was happening to Bradman at this time?
· In stanza 5, what metaphor is used to describe the emerging Bradman?
· What are the active verbs Kelly uses to reflect the significant impact he was having on the English side?
· Stanza 6 refers to the Bodyline Series – how does Kelly convey the unsportsmanlike behaviour of the English in this stanza?
· How does Kelly suggest Bradman’s humility in stanza 5 and 8?
· How do we know Kelly is critical of Kerry Packer’s attempt to package the game of cricket?



From St Kilda to King’s Cross p3
· The narrator is travelling in a bus from St Kilda to Kings Cross in Sydney (13 hours) how does the trip make him feel?
· How is the narrator attracted to Sydney? How is he put off?
· What does he reveal in the final stanza?
· Note the instrumentation – just guitar and vocal / harmonising vocals/ but also a saxophone. Where does the sax come in and what is significant about this?

Aboriginal Issues
This Land is Mine – written with Kevin Carmody p 235 (From One Night the Moon) Structured like a dialogue, this song contrasts the white farmer’s possessiveness of his farm with the aboriginal tracker’s conception of the land. While the farmer is worried about making the land productive, the tracker sees the whole landscape as part of his being. Both speakers share a fear of dispossession.
· How does Kelly’s interchanging use of the two voices affect the reader? How is this echoed in the instruments used in this song?
· What does the title immediately reveal to the reader?
· Notice that the title is repeated by both characters. What is the effect of this?
· What is the tone adopted by the voice in the first two stanzas?
· What is revealed by the farmer’s references to his land? What effect did fences have on traditional use of the lamd?
· What is ironic about the use of the word “old” in “the old fence line”?
· What does the farmer means when he says “I’m working hard just to make it pay”? what does this further reveal about how the white farmer uses the land?
· To what does the farmer refer when he says “I signed on the dotted line”
· Examine the use of imagery in the next two line: “Campfires on the creek bed / Bank breathing down my neck.” What is the effect of Kelly juxtaposing these two lines?
· notice the introduction of the didgeridoo as the tracker begins his part.
· What does the tracker’s use of language reveal about his relationship with the land?
· The 4th stanza is the only one beginning with a new line. Why do you think this is?
· To whom is the tracker speaking in line four of stanza four?
· What is the effect of the final three lines of the poem (note the repetition)
· What is the main message of this poem?

Maralinga (Rainy Day) p36 (SA)
· The person speaking first is an Aboriginal man named Yami Lester, a real person who was blinded by radioactive fallout from British nuclear testing at Maralinga in the 1950’s. focus – Aboriginal land rights / white invasion and continuing disregard for and ignorance of the indigenous people’s relationship with the land.
· Why is Maralinga a rainy land if there’s no thunder and the trees don’t grow?
· What is ironic about the only English Edie Millipuddie’s husband’s knows? What is the effect of the repetition of these lines?

Pigeon / Jundamurra (WA) p83
· Focuses on the struggle between the aborigines and the white settlers as told by a police officer looking for a prison escapee. A similar story is depicted in the film “Tracker”. Pigeon refers to the leader of the Kimberley Jundamurra, who led the resistance and was regarded as an outlaw. Finally an aboriginal tracker was employed and Pigeon was captured and killed near Derby in 1897
· How does the police officer reveal a grudging admiration for Pigeon?
· Is “pigeon” a dignified name for a man? Who gave him that name? what is his real name?
· How is Jundamurra likened to fire?
· How would you describe the pace of this song? What does this pace reflect?

The role of “voice” within Kelly’s poetry
At times Kelly appears to adopt the role of the narrator (eg Maralinga, Pigeon Jundamurra) At other times he distances himself from the character, speaking instead in the third person. (eg From Little Things Big Things Grow)
· Compare the different role of voice in the three poems mentioned here

From Little Things Big Things Grow p107
· An inspiring tale based on historical events. On the 23rd august 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji elder, led his people off the Wave Hill cattle station operated by the Vestey pastoral organization, in protest against their wages and conditions. Their stand against injustice attracted national publicity for aboriginal land rights grievances. The strike developed into an eight-year campaign by the Gurindji for the return of their traditional lands and became a famous cause across Australia.
In 1974 the Whitlam government handed back much of the Gurindji country. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured earth into Vincent Lingiarri’s cupped hands in a ceremony symbolising the legal restoration of their lands. This is a typical Kelly song about the underdogs achieving their goals through persistence and patience.
· How does Kelly establish such a stark contrast between Lord Vestey and Vincent?
· How is Vincent’s patience demonstrated?
· Notice the instrumental piece that is played after the story has been told. How would you describe the mood of this music? What extra instrument can you notice?

Aussie Life and Identity

Leaps and Bounds p22
· How do we know the person singing this song is in a happy mood? What word is repeated and how does the use of alliteration reinforce the mood?
· Why doesn’t the singer’s feet touch the ground?
· What season of the year is it?
· What senses does the singer use to enhance is happy mood?
· Comment on the variety of instruments and voices in this song (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, harmony vocals) that support the main vocalist
· How is this song strongly located in the physical environment? How do we know this is Melbourne?

Bradman p43 – 5
Read the VATE notes
· What contrast is established between the first and the second stanzas?
· What is the effect of the simile “like a tide”?
· What do you notice about the second stanza as you read the rest of these lyrics? What is the effect of this?
· Note the exaggerated references to the defeats the Australians suffered in the late ‘20s. How does Kelly describe what was happening to Bradman at this time?
· In stanza 5, what metaphor is used to describe the emerging Bradman?
· What are the active verbs Kelly uses to reflect the significant impact he was having on the English side?
· Stanza 6 refers to the Bodyline Series – how does Kelly convey the unsportsmanlike behaviour of the English in this stanza?
· How does Kelly suggest Bradman’s humility in stanza 5 and 8?
· How do we know Kelly is critical of Kerry Packer’s attempt to package the game of cricket?



From St Kilda to King’s Cross p3
· The narrator is travelling in a bus from St Kilda to Kings Cross in Sydney (13 hours) how does the trip make him feel?
· How is the narrator attracted to Sydney? How is he put off?
· What does he reveal in the final stanza?
· Note the instrumentation – just guitar and vocal / harmonising vocals/ but also a saxophone. Where does the sax come in and what is significant about this?












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