The first eleven songs that I have selected as part of this essay series document my relationship with the sad song from the age of four to the age of ten which occurred during the years 1987 and 1993, however before I dive into that I wanted to describe a bit of what stands as my criteria and definition of what a sad song is and can be and how it has taken on somewhat of a spiritual meaning for me. In the year 2007 when I was 23 going on 24 I discovered and purchased the below compact disc:
These two lectures by Nick Cave were vital in unlocking and understanding just how spiritual the act of creating and experiencing music was for me. It gave shape to a vicious yearning that had been desperate for dogmatic belief ever since I traded Catholic guilt for Agnostic Optimism in my early twenties. I always felt like art and music offered me spiritual nourishment but I was unable to find the words to describe as to why I felt that way. Within these two lectures Nick Cave adequately did this for me and further cemented his role as one of my biggest influences as both a human being and as an artist.
One particular passage from the first lecture lays out what I have now defined as my criteria and spiritual principles for how I think and operate as an artist and consumer of art and music. I have quoted this passage many times in both my writing with heavy and weird and in lots of private conversations with other devotees of the creative life. That passage is as follows:
“The loss of my father created in my life a vacuum, a space in which my words began to float and collect and find their purpose. WH Auden said, “the so-called traumatic experience is not an accident, but the opportunity for which the child has been patiently waiting – had it not occurred, it would have found another – in order that its life became a serious matter”. The death of my father was this “traumatic experience” that left the hole for God to fill. How beautiful the notion that we create our own personal catastrophes and that it is the creative forces within us that are instrumental in doing this. Here, our creative impulses lie in ambush at the side of our lives, ready to leap forth and kick holes in it – holes through which inspiration can rise. We each have our need to create, and sorrow itself is a creative act.
Though the love song comes in many guises – songs of exaltation and praise, of rage and of despair, erotic songs, songs of abandonment and loss – they all address God, for it is the haunted premise of longing that the true love song inhabits. It is a howl in the void for love and for comfort, and it lives on the lips of the child crying for his mother. It is the song of the lover in need of their loved one, the raving of the lunatic supplicant petitioning his God. It is the cry of one chained to the earth and craving flight, a flight into inspiration and imagination and divinity. The love song is the sound of our endeavours to become God-like, to rise up and above the earth-bound and the mediocre. I believe the love song to be a sad song. It is the noise of sorrow itself.
We all experience within us what the Portuguese call “saudade”, an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul, and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration, and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the love song. Saudade is the desire to be transported from darkness into light, to be touched by the hand of that which is not of this world. The love song is the light of God, deep down, blasting up though our wounds.
In his brilliant lecture, The Theory And Function Of Duende, Frederico Garcia Lorca attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives at the heart of certain works of art. “All that has dark sounds has ‘duende’,” he says, “that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain.”
Contemporary rock music seems less inclined to have at its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often, anger, sometimes – but true sadness, rarely. Bob Dylan has always had it. Leonard Cohen deals specifically with it. It pursues Van Morrison like a black dog and, though he tries to, he cannot escape it. Tom Waits and Neil Young can summon it. My friends The Dirty 3 have it by the bucketload. But, all in all, it would appear that the duende is too fragile to survive the compulsive modernity of the music industry. In the hysterical technocracy of modern music, sorrow is sent to the back of the class, where it sits, pissing its pants in mortal terror. Duende, needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. I feel sorry for sadness, as we jump all over it, denying its voice and muscling it into the outer reaches. No wonder sorrow doesn’t smile much. No wonder sadness is so sad.
All love songs must contain “duende”, because the love song is never simply happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love, without having within their lines an ache or a sigh, are not love songs at all, but rather hate songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our human-ness and our God-given right to be sad, and the airwaves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the whispers of sorrow and the echoes of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker reaches of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, magic and joy of love, for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil, so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.”
With all that in mind I think it is time that I share the origin story at the centre of my sadness.
Content note: This story includes themes related to mental illness and the passing of a family member. If this brings up anything for you, please reach out to a safe person or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
In 1987 my sister Genevieve was born but unfortunately she passed away three weeks later as a result of the terrible illness known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Over those three weeks when she was alive I remember being so ecstatic and although I was only very young I can still remember her and the thrill of being her older brother. I had so much love for her and would always do my best to help Mum with the daily “new baby” chores. I remember when she would cry and I’d go in and try and comfort her. I felt a connection to my little sister and with adult hindsight I can look fondly on that short moment spent with her.
On the morning of Genevieve’s death, there was a moment that occurred during the chaos of that situation that put an end to the innocence of childhood for me. It was early in the morning that I heard the screams of Mum and Dad uttering “She’s not Breathing!!!” and it was both frightening and confusing. I was too scared to get out of bed because this was not the regular routine within our household. Naturally in the extreme sudden nature of her passing there was Ambulance and Police officers that turned up along with extended family members and friends.
The scattered sequence of events of that morning that live in my memory finds it difficult to place the final moment I spent with Genevieve after she passed, however there was one shared. There are flashes of being told to stay in my room by Dad along with the final image of Mum holding Genevieve whilst being comforted by one of the Ambulance officers. Somewhere in between these two sequences I sneaked into Genevieve’s room. There she was in her Cot like she always was in the mornings. Routine always had me going in and kissing her on the forehead hoping she would wake up so she could join the day with the rest of us. The difference was this time she was pale and hauntingly still. I remember just staring at her filled with what I can only describe now as a sense of dread drenched in wonder. My baby sister was dead and nothing from here would ever be the same and as I heard someone coming towards her room I ran downstairs to be with my older brother Ben and the extended family who had started to arrive at our house. That is where the memories of that day goes blank however it signals the beginning of the ancient ache of sadness erupting into my life.
This brings me back to the Nick Cave lecture and the WH Auden quote within it that says:
“the so-called traumatic experience is not an accident, but the opportunity for which the child has been patiently waiting – had it not occurred, it would have found another – in order that its life became a serious matter.”
Whilst it may seem somewhat trivial to view the traumatic experience of losing my sister Genevieve as a moment of divine intervention, it does feel like there was some kind of strange purpose to me experiencing loss at such a young age. I was not emotionally intelligent enough to understand it when it happened but I was aware enough to acknowledge how much that morning changed not only me but my family.
After Genevieve passed away there was a loneliness and sadness that attached itself to our family. A lot of the deeper more complex emotional issues her passing caused would not be understood until I was a lot older. The one thing that I was able to understand at such a young age based on this experience was that everything you love ends and that death is a reality we must all face. That thought terrified me but also inspired my imagination and ability to slip deep into thought about a great many things. The “mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain” had taken root and started to attach itself to the healing power of art and music.
That is where we start the journey of art and music that began to shape my understanding of that ache within me and how the sad song became the most trusted source of pain relief and a vital building block to discovering who I was as a human being.
1987 to 1993
1. A Touch of Paradise by John Farnham
The landmark 1986 album “Whispering Jack” by John Farnham is one of my earliest musical memories and soundtracked so much of what I remember of living in Brisbane during 1987. When I hear that album now I am instantly transported back to the next fracture in my life which started in January 1988. Through a work transfer that my Dad got, my whole family – Mum, Dad and my older brother Ben – packed up our lives in Brisbane and moved 12 hours away to Mackay. Considering we had spent all of our collective lives in Brisbane this was a massive change and culture shock. The overall mood and atmosphere of Mackay was different to the big City pulse of Brisbane.
Mackay was hotter and carried a spooky series of sites and sounds that added to the unconscious anxiety I was feeling about no longer being close to friends and extended family in Brisbane. My young four year old mind firstly couldn’t comprehend the lack of skyscrapers and “City” infrastructure. There was also a lot more rural and coastal terrains which was totally foreign to me. They didn’t even have a McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks at this point and people just were existing at a different pace. I missed the comfort of daily visits to Nana and Pop’s and the safety I felt in Brisbane. Even certain avenues like television was limited because they only had Channel Seven, a localised version, and ABC. I remember being frantically upset that I was unable to watch Humphrey B. Bear and could only be consoled by the news that Nana would tape episodes for me on a VHS tape and send it up in the Post.
Mackay could be equal parts terrifying and exciting but there was a stark haunted energy to the heat of the place. Add into this it was Cyclone season and for the first time in my existence I heard the dreaded warning siren on the television and had to comprehend the idea of flooding inside the house I lived in. All of these things along with the remote rural and tropical nature of Mackay and the unspoken loneliness swirling in our household as a result of our recent loss of my sister Genevieve just elevated the sadness I was feeling.
When it comes to art and music that summarise what I was feeling in those early months of living in Mackay, “A Touch of Paradise” stands as the lone candidate and the first time I connected with a sad song. When the opening bars of “A Touch of Paradise” start the crimson haze of a Whitsundays sunset instantly comes to my mind and I can hear the sound of the birds living in the drain making scary noises at night. The song “A Touch of Paradise” was not an instant favourite of mine but I did always notice the way it changed the atmosphere of a room when it was being played. There is a dirge to it but also a sense of calm. All of that unconscious anxiety I spoke of earlier, unconscious because I was way too young and emotionally unaware to understand what I was feeling, birthed coping mechanisms rooted in escapism. The joy of “Whispering Jack” and the music of John Farnham offered a form of comfort for me and my family. That album was played constantly, as was his 1988 release “Age of Reason” and TV Concert films taped from Chanel Seven. Those songs formed the basis for the new life we started to build and bonded us as a family.
The sadness was giving way to emotions rooted in happiness. I started to adjust to Mackay, even if those fucking drain birds kept me awake at night. With adult hindsight I listen to “A Touch of Paradise” and understand how the emotional plea at the core of the song mirrored my own back in 1988. I was detached from comfort and looking for some steady ground to stand on and through the shared grief of my family we all were able to navigate our strange new home and recent loss.
2. The Living Years by Mike & The Mechanics
3. Compulsory Hero by 1927
If “A Touch of Paradise” bridged my experiences moving from Brisbane to Mackay in early 1988 then the next two songs on this list – “The Living Years” by Mike & The Mechanics and “Compulsory Hero” by 1927 – offer further insight into how art and music provided new levels of comfort to help me establish some kind of positive relationship with my new home. Both tracks instantly take me back to the comfort of Saturday Morning watching RAGE with my older brother Ben. Considering we both went on to become artists when we got older it stands to reason that our motivations to do so share similar experiences and are connected through a lot of these songs.
One of the big themes at the centre of our relationship as siblings hinges on our lifetime of weathering great schisms within our known comforts. At this point in our lives, 1988 in Mackay that is, I was 4 going on 5 and Ben was 6 going on 7. The upheaval of moving from Brisbane to Mackay meant that for a big part of those early years we only had each other as friends until we slowly but surely found our place within the community of our new home town. This need to depend on each other would follow us through multiple school changes within Mackay and would deepen once again in 1996 when we discovered we had to move to Bundaberg. These kinds of challenges to our established comforts meant that we always were on the outer of most social groups, largely because of our nomadic experiences throughout our lives. This brings with it a kind of sadness that is riddled with complexity and has taken us years to fully grasp how it inspired our deep connection with art and music as both fans and artists.
We both had to grow up quickly due to being confronted with some heavy emotional content early on with the loss of Genevieve, our baby sister. This event looms large over our development and how we experienced the world. It was clear that something as simple as sitting in our lounge room on a Saturday morning in 1988 as young boys became about the ritualistic need for comfort but it also offered us escapism and fed our curiosity as we both had an ancient sadness awoken in us the moment Genevieve died and we moved away from Brisbane.
In terms of Sad Songs “The Living Years” by Mike & The Mechanics is a big budget blockbuster that hovers between the aesthetics of a power ballad and a life affirming stadium rock anthem but the cheese never becomes clumsy or cliched. Instead we get a euphoric reflection on death with the loss of the authors father acting as the driving force for the song. At the heart of the lyrics we get duel perspectives on how loss can cause regret but also inspire redemption and clarity. When I first heard the song in 1988 as a young boy it was like experiencing music on a cinematic level. It made me feel unexplained feelings and I knew it was music that was supremely different to other songs being played on RAGE or the radio.
Similarly, “Compulsory Hero” by 1927 also leans into your more big budget dramatics in order to discuss some tough issues. Sadness and loss are still central to the high emotions being expressed but this time it relates to the psychological damage caused to those brave souls who have to go and fight wars as part of their countries defence force. The focus is on the death of your innocence and the idea that as children we all race to play the hero but when people were conscripted as young humans to the army in order to participate in war the choice to be a hero was more about survival instead of glory.
Both songs give sorrow and grief the space to shine earnestly and that’s why they were crucial pieces of art for me and my brother. We didn’t know the depth or meaning of these songs at the young age we were but we understood that they weren’t like the other more upbeat party songs juxtaposed either side of them on the radio and television. All we could understand was that we felt different since moving to Mackay and that our sensitivity to the emotional impact of art and music was slowly becoming the greatest rush in the world. Many years later we would call the second Galapogos record “feel or suffer” and I like to think that these moments spent in a hushed silence on the lounge room floor of our house in Mackay listening to the above mentioned songs was the first step we both took towards letting our suffering be reduced by the joy of getting transfixed on the power of feeling on a deeper level the sadness of loss.
4. In My Room by The Beach Boys
If ever there was a song to capture my life in 1990 and 1991 as a six going on seven going on eight year old human boy it would be “In My Room” by The Beach Boys. I wasn’t a very “outdoors” type of boy and could be described as your archetypical “inside” child. There is no great mystery to the reason why this was the case because my girth and the fact that I had been wearing glasses since I was three years old limited a lot of the activities that most kids my age would participate in. Mastering traditional childhood adventuring tools like learning to ride a bike were events I missed out on. It wasn’t through lack of trying or encouragement from my family, I just couldn’t master it so I gave up on it. Add into this the fact that my weight meant I was slower than most of my peers meant that sport and other athletic pursuits terrified me.
There is a great sadness to this because it meant I was a difficult prospect friend wise. Other humans my age at that point in my life relied on the physical pursuits of playtime as a bonding force with their other peers. Being so limited in this field meant that I was a useless addition to any sports team and would be the eternal problem at every play date because I was unable to go bike riding and adventuring. This was the moment in my life, as a result of these experiences, that I learnt how to be alone. You could assume that there was a sadness to this early lesson in solitude but honestly, even at that young age I found great joy in just being on my own. Whether it was a happy accident or unconscious design, those moments spent on my own helped sharpen my imagination and overall curiosity for creativity. I could ham up the stark reality of being so young and so good at being alone but in all honesty, as much as I could feel sad that I was being left out I also was able to learn how to be invisible and how to observe.
This was the time when I connected with The Beach Boys and their music. My knowledge of the group was due to their recent hit “Kokomo” which dominated the radio in the late 80’s early 90’s along with a cassette tape of their greatest hits given to us on a blank tape courtesy of a family friend. This combined with a made for TV movie of their story called “Summer Dreams: The Story of The Beach Boys” – which we had taped from Channel Seven one Sunday Night due to our love of the group – formed my understanding of who they were as artists and they soon became my first favourite band, even before my discovery of The Beatles and their great discography and history.
This made for TV movie alone introduced me to words and concepts like marijuana and getting high along with people like Charles Manson and his cult. I remember asking my Mum who Charles Manson was to which she replied “he was a very bad man” with a concerned look on her face. This both scared and intrigued me, however I didn’t fully grasp who or what he was until I was a lot older. The concept of drugs also confused me because I couldn’t wrap my head around why anyone would take illegal substances if there was a risk of death or getting in trouble with the police. Expanding your mind and the deeper spiritual journey that mind altering drugs provided would not make sense until I was a lot older, even then I still found little value in them. As was the case later in life, for me, it was all about the music and this made for TV movie did a great job at deepening my fascination for art and music
In My Room
by The Beach Boys
Songwriters: Brian Wilson / Gary Usher
There’s a world where I can go
Tell my secrets to
In my room
In my room (in my room)
In this world I lock out
All my worries and my fears
In my room
In my room (in my room)
Do my dreaming and my scheming
Lie awake and pray?
Do my crying and my sighing
Laugh at yesterday?
Now it’s dark and I’m alone
But I won’t be afraid
In my room
In my room (in my room, in my room)
In my room (in my room, in my room)
As sad as the lyric and melodic delivery of “In My Room” is there is a joy to it. Quite often we dismiss isolation as a negative concept emotionally however this song highlights the exultation it offers those who need the safety of their imaginations as a means of escape from the cruelty of being active within polite society. Considering my eight year old self was academically limited and athletically challenged I needed some reassurance from the universe that there was a way I could access understanding and purpose allowing me to feel valued. My curiosity was opened that bit further and the journey to a full coming of age was not far away.
5. Jealous Guy by John Lennon
It may not be a unique take but my introduction to The Beatles was through John Lennon and his solo music. My mother had a small but diverse record collection and the three albums that always stood out were “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” by The Beatles and “Imagine” by John Lennon. The way my Mum would light up when she spoke about the greatness of The Beatles, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney, intrigued me. They seemed almost as heroic as the fictional heroes I was worshiping like Superman and Batman or anyone from the Star Wars universe.
The most iconic element of those records that I used to focus on were the album covers. The four faces on “Let It Be” were just so intriguing, who were these four men and what was this phenomenon that they had caused many years before I was born. The mysterious nature of their known legacy amongst the adults in my life stuck until one day Mum suggest we put the record on.
Most eight year old kids at the time probably had little interest in knowing or understanding who or what The Beatles were and what their cultural significance was. Perhaps it was my curiosity or maybe it was one of those twists of fate that was beyond my control, but from the moment I heard “Two of Us” crackle through the stereo speakers I was hooked. I remember sitting there listening to the full “Let It Be” record just staring at those four faces.
Who were these four human beings?
I’d like to say there was some deep spiritual reason that I felt drawn to John Lennon during that maiden voyage listening to “Let It Be” but the honest truth was he wore glasses like me. It was as simple as that, but most of the people we resonate with start with the physical and expand into the spiritual once we move beyond the surface. At that point in my life I had never seen a musician wear glasses. It probably seems strange now but there wasn’t a lot of people wearing glasses when I grew up. There was a real loser stigma to it and it was just another thing for people to bully you about. I fucking hated wearing glasses and if I wasn’t being teased or picked on for my weight, it was because I had to wear glasses.
Seeing (pardon the pun) John Lennon with his glasses just drew me to him. I would of course fall deep into the Paul McCartney world a few years later in 1993 but for now, John was who I was fixated on. John Lennon wearing glasses would become a selling point used by my mother in 1993 when I had to change my prescriptions and update my frames. This was a process I despised because there was nothing more frustrating then having to get use to new glasses and it was a “get that look off your face Daniel” kind of tantrum I would throw in resistance. Luckily, Mum knew me well and understood the connection I was forming with The Beatles, and in particular John, so she picked out a pair like John Lennon wore and even though they weren’t identical to how his looked I still felt a semblance of cool just knowing that I had a pair like him.
Nothing would prepare me however for the emotional impact of “Jealous Guy” when I first heard it. There is so much to dissect when it comes this song and the “Imagine” record. That album was a spooky prospect to me back in 1991 and it remains as one of my favourite records of all time. Unlike “Let It Be” the music contained within “Imagine” was deeper, darker and littered with sadness. It offered a challenging prospect for me back then in the sense that it’s darkness meant I never made it past side one. I had never been scared by music before but after I heard that first side I was not game to move onto side two.
Hearing a track like “I don’t want to be a soldier” was like watching a horror film. The sounds and emotion was full of dark imagery that unsettled me. Even the title track was mournful and moodier than anything I had heard before. Despite the scary nature of it I did also find it exciting and felt myself connecting to something about how it all sounded.
The added spookiness also hung in the ghostly cover art. On my maiden voyage listening to “Imagine” I remember asking Mum what happened to John Lennon and she explained how he had been shot and killed many years earlier. I could sense how tragic this was by the way Mum explained it to me and it filled me with an incredible sadness. This probably had a lot to do with my unconscious empathy that had started to become a personal problem for me at the time.
I always felt this terrible burden of “feeling sorry for people” which could overwhelm me to the point of feeling discomfort from it. That’s how I defined it back then, but what I was really feeling was empathy. It could be suffocating but this was simply because I had yet to sharpen my own emotional intelligence. This would explain why I was always in the terrain of sadness from a young age. For some reason I hated feeling this “empathy” because it could just distract me to the point of being unable to focus on anything else. It provided the basis for a lot of deep thinking and a lot of emotional distress that I was unable to express, even to my parents and siblings. The suffering of others hurt me deeply and perhaps it was a coping mechanism for my own pain and as a result of being bullied at school. There is no easy answer but it certainly influenced how I developed as a person. When Mum explained to me how John Lennon died it amplified the solemn figure on the cover of the “Imagine” record and my empathy soon turned to sadness as he almost became ghost like. It still stands as one of the most haunting images I have ever seen when I pair it with the context of how I learnt about his tragic end.
Although the lyrical content of “Jealous Guy” was beyond me when I first heard it the emotion of it wasn’t. The vocal delivery, the instrumentation and the mood is dripping with sadness and a deep sigh that I could connect with. As an eight year old in 1991 it spoke to that overload of empathy I was feeling and provided a calming effect. It slowed down the pain of all I was feeling and the song just embraced me like a warm hug. There is a reason why “Jealous Guy” is one of my favourite songs of all time and it is because of the way it’s meaning and relevance grew with me.
In adult life I started to relate to the lyric, especially when it came to my ability to wrestle with and be ruled by the dark stain of jealousy in all of my human relationships. I can feel that sorrow and sadness that John Lennon is singing about in this song. When you fear loss and feel like everyone is going to abandon you it makes sense that you love people with an obsessiveness that suffocates. It causes all sorts of complications but it is always coming from a good place but if it goes unchecked or unexamined it can be dangerous.
That is the genius of this song, on the surface it is about jealousy but ultimately it is a song about the pain of feeling too deeply and being all too aware that everything must end and trying to stay in control when that suffering of life can offer up so much chaos and uncertainty.
Moving into 1992 I felt a degree of stability enter my life. After starting grade one, in 1989, at St. Mary’s in Mackay a change would come when my family moved house to the other side of town. This meant changing schools and in 1990 I started grade two at St. Joseph’s. Although it was the same town there were vast differences between St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s. Having to once again go through the process of starting over and making new friends took time. It was a long process for me in particular because I was not very athletic so I wasn’t able to join in with the other boys and play sports, even though I desperately wanted to. This left me in a sort of limbo because I was also very shy and due to the territorial nature of any school environment I had to avoid certain areas so I didn’t get bullied by the other children.
Secondary to all this is that I always felt dumb and it took me a lot longer to grasp other academic concepts that seemed to come naturally to others. I managed to master the basic reading and writing skills but I was not great at Maths or Science. As it was a Catholic School we were taught religion as a subject, even at that young age, which inspired me to think deeply about life. All of the Jesus and God stuff was just decorating the core philosophy of understanding suffering and the reality of death. These revelations of course would come much later on, but at the age I was religion became a subject I could grasp and understand.
Due to my limitations and shy demeanour I didn’t have many friends. This was when I started to find solace in the Library. If there was one place that I could retreat to and feel a sense of safety it was there. For one, it was quiet so that spoke to my need to dull the chaos of the playground. There was also a comfortable place to sit and although I haven’t carried it as feverishly into my adult life, I loved books and reading. The school Library was my sanctuary where none of the bullies or the cruelty could follow me and it became a cathedral for my imagination to expand and grow. I would lean into the safety of the Library many more times in my school life but in 1990 my relationship with this wonderful institution began.
6. I’ve Got to Go Now by Toni Childs
7. (Everything I Do) I Do It for You by Bryan Adams
This need to lean into the safety of the Library started to pass the longer I was at St. Joseph’s. In 1991, while I wasn’t Mr Popular I did start to feel comfortable with my peers. If I am honest grade three was a blur of a year. I still had no real best friends to speak of and just sort of hovered from group to group. Despite my girth I could be quite invisible and could quite easily sit with the larger group undetected. Just observing and being with people was enough. I may not have talked much in those scenarios but as Richard Ashcroft once sang, I had developed the ability to be alone with everybody.
One thing I do remember, due to the lack of friends, is I didn’t get invited to sleepovers or people’s houses very much. The odd pity invite could occur but even at that age I could sense it was a set up orchestrated by my parents. I understand it but this lack of “best friends” simple fed into my comfort with being by myself and not needing the crowd or the group to dictate who or what I was going to be as a human being. There were moments that it could still make me feel sad and left out but one of the great coping mechanisms was watching Television and listening to music.
The ritual of watching Saturday morning RAGE and Video Hits, Mackay finally got Channel Ten and Channel Nine, was maintained. I loved it and 1991 leading into 1992 I experienced a real golden era of music coming at me. Even if it wasn’t music I was old enough to understand I still sat through it and watched in awe at this heroic act of performing music. I started to develop connections with artists that weren’t related to ones my Parents had introduced me to which gave me a sense of ownership. I also got to experience artists like R.E.M., Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers as some of their biggest hits broke and although it would take me a while longer to fully connect I still remember being fond of what I was hearing from them.
Two of the biggest songs of 1991 were “I’ve Got to Go Now” by Toni Childs and “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams. These songs were hard to avoid and two of my absolute favourites from that era of my life. The Toni Childs song was a serious song about the impact of domestic abuse on a family. It graphically details the struggle and intense complex emotions attached to such a scenario. The song is anthemic and empowering aesthetically but the power of Toni Childs vocal performance is soaked in sadness. The song is not a pure promotional vehicle to sell a big budget Hollywood Film, as it was the lead song attached to “Thelma & Louise” which had just been released, instead it is a piece of art that the artist themselves had experienced. I can grasp the meaning now but my attraction to it in 1991 as an 8 year old human as how its combination of darkness and huge explosive chorus just stopped you in your tracks and flickered my imagination. The rush of how this track is communicated speaks to that need we all have to escape.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have “(Everything I do) I do it for you” by Bryan Adams which leans into the cheese and cliches of the soft rock power ballad to deliver one of the most important songs in my life. There was a real ownership I felt with Bryan Adams because he was the first artist I discovered and loved independent of my Parents influence. This has everything to do with Kevin Costner and my obsession with “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” more than anything else.
“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” was one of the biggest film of 1991 and my relationship with it began with a toy. In the 1991 June school holidays, as was the custom in our household, we were treated to a toy if we had previously adhered to the usual chore campaign outlined by our parents. The excitement on the day that I knew I was able to buy a new toy was a spectacular eruption of joy. I couldn’t sleep the night before and on this day occasion it was no different.
My memory of this moment in 1991 is so vivid that I can still on occasion sample that joy as an adult when I am feeling nostalgic and stuck in a dark place. Running to the toy section I saw an array of action figures linked to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” on display. I knew nothing about the film beyond that it had Kevin Costner in it and the previews I had seen on television. That display sold me and I grabbed the Robin Hood action figure.
My retail experience that day would catapult me towards a new obsession. Not only did I become the worlds biggest Robin Hood fan, both the Kevin Costner version and the folklore hero in general, but I also discovered Bryan Adams. As “(Everything I do) I do it for you” was the big hit single attached to the aforementioned film it naturally become my favourite song of that moment.
On the back of this new connection I found the first artist that I felt was my own. From this one song I started to need to hear more from Bryan Adams. His 1991 album “Waking Up The Neighbours” was huge and the one cassette tape I would constantly study when I saw it at the music section of the local K-Mart and Big W. My need to have it fed into a new character trait that started to bloom which was my need to collect. This skill and need would find a home once I started collecting cassette tapes and compact discs many years later, but in 1991 I could only dream of such a life where I had the means to purchase all of these artefacts attached to my passions.
In early 1992 I finally acquired my copy of “Waking Up The Neighbours” by Bryan Adams on cassette tape. To say I wore out that tape is an understatement. It may be the wrong album to bring up around hip art fuckwits but I have rarely been accepted by the hip elite so I have little shame in claiming “Waking Up The Neighbours” by Bryan Adams as an album that changed my life and one of my all time favourites.
The reason why “(Everything I do) I do it for you” makes this list is due to it being my first ever unrequited love song sigh experience. The young boys in my class may have been cycling through their “girl germs” phase but I was developing crushes on girls left, right and centre. Perhaps it was all of the Degrassi Junior High I was watching that inspired such a feeling in me, a child mimicking adult concepts, but I can say that I always felt safer and more welcomed in the company of girls.
From my Mother Aileen, Nana Gloria and Aunty Urs to my cousins Angie and Jo and later on my Pre-School teacher Mrs. McCartney, grade one teacher Mrs Hovey to our family friend Sister Denise, women have played a large role in my life. Every time I changed schools it was always the girls who took me in and made me feel welcomed when all of the boys teased me and treated me poorly. I felt protected and understood by women and girls as a result of their kindness and lack of judgement.
What I describe as a crush actually was a deep yearning to fill the space left by my sister Genevieve’s passing. The confusion of a need to protect and feel love for these girls in my grade was me unconsciously tending to my grief and the yearning I had for Genevieve to be alive. I was not old enough in 1991 and 1992 to grasp this complicated relationship I had with girls and later women and I wouldn’t dive into the psychology of it until I was deep into my 20’s but I did daydream and wonder what Genevieve would have been like had she had been alive.
To yearn felt as normal to me as any other feeling. In fact, at that age it felt like it was the only way to feel. It felt similar to the empathy I carried around but it was emotionally more intense because it was linked to sorrow and sadness from a different angle. The innocence of my mind at that age married it up with what it must be like to be in love with someone else like on the television shows and movies I was watching. If only it was as simple as that, clearly it isn’t, but to my young mind that was the best way to rationalise all of that yearning. Seeing “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” for the first time in early 1992 gave focus to this yearning and a deeper connection to “(Everything I do) I do it for you” as a song.
The relationship between Robin Hood and Maid Marian sharpened my desire to one day fall in love. As unrealistic and Hollywood as it was it set a fire within me. Naturally I hoped that if I did something as heroic as Robin Hood I would win the day and the female human of my dreams. These weren’t highly developed ideals and funded by the innocence of my age at the time but I felt them deeply. I could crush so hard it hurt and no matter how much I felt and leaned into this yearning I also knew I was not a Hollywood human or a classic beauty myself. I may have been a naïve nine year old but I wasn’t stupid, so I swallowed those feelings and accepted the path of the unrequited.
That is how I got lost in song like “(Everything I do) I do it for you” because it was easier to fantasise about what romantic love would or might feel like through the escapism of art and music. That sadness of love lost or never realised started with this track even though lyrically it spins a different tale. The emotion of the track was still largely rooted in the way love can lead to all sorts of obsessive feelings that causes you to become so scared of losing the person you feel that for. I know now the problematic sting of living too far inside the world of the unrequited but back then there was a safety to feeling deeply in private but being the kind little fat boy in public. That was my path of least resistance because it meant that I wouldn’t get hurt. A long life of wishing I was thin dominated my thinking more after this event because I started to understand my limitations in all areas of life.
Similarly, the next song also piggybacks on this obsession I had with the unrequited. If Robin Hood was my desire to be heroic then Danny Zuko spoke to that idea of being the coolest human in the room. To have the even mix of the rebel swagger with the kindness of a saint mixed with style and hips and feet that could dominate any dance floor was the kind of fantasy my little fat self could get lost in. It remains mysterious to me but in 1991 and 1992 I became obsessed with “Grease” and the music from its soundtrack.
I see 1992 as this transformation year for me where I started to unlock parts of my personality that would start to reshape my identity. My resonance with “Grease” has a lot to do with this but it was a small part of a larger change. As an 8 going on 9 year old I faced this dilemma of knowing I was young enough to still play with toys but old enough to be moving on from them. Lots of kids at school had already started this move away from their early childhood hobbies and were teasing those who still played with toys. I observed this new piece of ammunition early in grade four and it scared me as I was confused as to what I was meant to do without toys.
Most of the boys in my grade adopted the traditional male path of sports and other standard boy to man related hobbies. I wondered if I had to start to become interested in things like mechanics and building things as the hardware store seemed like the adult toy store for male humans. Naturally none of it appealed to me and I panicked at how once again I would be left out because I couldn’t move with the group through a basic evolution to a pre-teen existence. So I joined the local Rugby League team with my other male classmates and hated every fucking minute of it.
My rugby league career was spent on the sidelines watching the ball hogs and sons of fathers with failed sports careers get precedence over the fun of having everyone play as a team. I can’t blame my coach as he was always kind and found a way to use me for a small portion of the game but I was no athlete and the hushed fuckheadery of the “one dog, two dog” fathers not realising that it was merely under 9’s not the big leagues made sure that kids like me didn’t have a chance. This experience made me hate men and the male ego even deeper. The humiliation and absolute cunts present at the junior rugby league fields of Mackay on a Saturday in 1992 made men never want to be part of any team sports ever again. I fucking hated it and I knew that I was just a problem for them, from the fact that I was slow to never having a jersey available to fit me. The only reason I stuck with it was because I had an extended family in Brisbane who valued this kind of thing so I thought I was letting down the O’Rourke name if I didn’t play rugby league. I was so glad in 1993 when my parents sensed my pain and said I didn’t have to play it if I didn’t want to. There was no consideration, I immediately said I didn’t want to play anymore and that was the end of my sporting career.
The antidote to experiencing this toxic masculinity was escaping into a world that was in great contrast to it. This is the only reason I can muster as to why I became so addicted to “Grease” because Danny Zuko was the counterculture to all of that. This was also at a time when my love for all things art and music was on the rise and I spent more time consuming it. I started to write in a diary, brought magazines like TV Hits, Smash Hits and STAR whilst becoming attracted to Television shows like Beverly Hills 90210. My friendship group was exclusively girls and even though I had a few male friends I spent the lunch hours of 1992 in the classroom with the girls reading magazines and listening to music. If anyone had a role in helping me shape my identity it was Danny Zuko and the music of Grease.
8. Sandy by John Travolta
Due to its incredible influence in my life I found it hard to pick just one song from the “Grease” soundtrack. There are three or four songs that the theme of this essay but in 1992 none of them hit harder then “Sandy” performed by John Travolta as Danny Zuko. Like my previous choice their is a sigh to this track that spoke to the sadness deep at the heart of my need to hide in the realms of the unrequited. Strip back the cheddar and you unlock the pleas of the Danny character struggling with being vulnerable and loving honestly whilst trying to maintain this persona he has built. Sandy sees him for who he is and has allowed him to be that in private but the fear of being this sensitive dude takes a bravery he is not willing to indulge. By todays standards the behaviour and end point of how both Danny and Sandy settle for each other is problematic but viewed through the lens of cinema and fantasy they both give each other the courage to be versions of themselves that they want to be but have fought so unconsciously to avoid.
It is a powerful song and high point of the soundtrack and blessed with an emotional performance that delicately balances sincerity and big blockbuster sheen. There may be no punk rock glory to pledging allegiance to Danny Zuko but without this song and his character I wouldn’t have tasted the thrill of the counterculture. This experience of a male lead in a musical showed me there was more to masculinity than sports. Grasping what it was didn’t sink in immediately but I was changed and felt that the arts and being creative was way more purposeful than what I had experienced in life thus far.
Getting lost in the creative imagination meant I could dream up a version of myself that wasn’t the kind little fat boy. Being able to escape into that world in my mind as a nine year old and imagining myself singing those songs and being that character made me feel valued. It dulled the rejection I felt from my peers and got me excited that I had found something that was mine. The world of school may have been littered with torturous obstacles and bullying but as long as I could escape it in my head while listening and thinking about this music I felt free and that gave me what I would describe as hope and joy. Some people never find that in life, I was lucky to discover it so young and have it be the place I return the older I got and the deeper into art and music I got.
9. The Day You Went Away by Wendy Matthews
The next song came into my life courtesy of my Dad. “The Day You Went Away” by Wendy Matthews was a big hit of 1992. I was merely a causal observer of it based on my avid radio listening. For some reason Dad was a big fan of it which was surprising because the only artists that I had heard him pledge allegiance to was Roy Orbison and Acker Billk. Mum brought the cassette single for “The Day You Went Away” and it got played quite regularly in the car.
On impact you can hear the sadness of this song and it became an early influence on what I enjoyed most about music. It’s place on this list started as an exercise in pure nostalgia to track my relationship with the sad song but in preparation for this essay it was my older brother Ben who helped me see a perspective of Dad liking this song all the way back in 1992 that I hadn’t even considered.
Now this is purely speculation, but Ben suggested that perhaps the reason why Dad loved this song so much was because it reminded him of Genevieve and spoke to his sadness of her loss. This opened the song up to a new deeper meaning. Even though it speaks of a lover leaving there is enough ambiguity and emotion in the lyric to have it connect to the greater feeling of loss. To think that I shared so many moments in silence with Dad in the car driving around Mackay doing our day to day tasks listening to this song took on a new meaning with this hindsight. Whether Dad was thinking about the Genevieve courtesy of this beautiful song or not doesn’t matter. It was a shared moment of grief between a Father and Son who appreciated how a sad song can do all of the feeling for you.
10. I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston
Obsession is at the heart of a lot of these stories attached to these songs. My love of music from 1992 into 1993 was becoming an idea or thought that continually preoccupied or intruded like nothing had ever before. I can point to many eras of my life and talk about certain music related obsessions but one that stands out as one of the original archetypes for how obsessed I could become with a song, album and artist is my relationship with “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston.
Yet another Kevin Costner film is involved in this story and whether that is sheer coincidence or a point of meaning remains to be seen. This was in the summer of 1992 leading into 1993 and one of my favourite things to do during that school holiday period was to listen to Barry Bissell’s Take 40 Australia on a Sunday afternoon. It became a ritual and the place for me to hear new music.
One song that dominated that countdown was “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston which held the number one position for most of the early months of 1993. It’s one of those moments I am glad I have in my history considering how overplayed the song is now, but I can claim to have heard it with fresh ears in real time as it was becoming the biggest song in the world. It’s this special historical event that still keeps me connected to the song almost 30 years later. The power of the lyrics and melody matched with Whitney Houston’s voice is undeniable. Hearing that song unlocked an obsession that was unlike anything else I had experienced before. Taking matters into my own hands I made sure the next time I heard it I would record it onto a blank cassette tape from the radio so I had a copy.
Naturally the odds of hearing the song outside of this countdown would be challenging. After attempting to do this I decided my safest bet was to wait until the Take 40 Countdown on Sunday. Now I was fresh 9 on my way to being 10 that December so the little life experience I had did not have me in a position where I understood how the Take 40 Countdown worked. I didn’t question the mechanics behind the charts or even grasp that there were such things as mainstream and underground artists. There was an innocence to it that made music about joy and pure emotion instead of intellectualism. So it was beyond me then that I was playing with a sure thing by waiting for “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston on the Take 40 Countdown as I still thought of it as more of a random system. That probably reads absurd to modern folk but we didn’t have the instant google culture of now to source such information so it was a slower more manual process. No option is better or worse, just different but I feel fondness for the amount of time that came from brainstorming how to get a copy of this song.
I spent three hours with my finger on the record button ready to capture “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston to a blank cassette tape. Along the way I captured other songs I also liked but was careful not to record too many as it was a 60 minute tape which meant 30 minutes each side. Finally, and not surprisingly, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston was announced as the number one song and I recorded it to tape as it was being played. Only flaw in this plan was that I had taped too many songs so I missed the last 30 seconds of the song. This, along with the host Barry Bissell’s voice announcing the song at the front 30 seconds, was the only minor stain of that moment. I finally had a copy of “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston to listen to over and over again.
Why was this song so impactful to me – well I think I will let the original writer of the song, Dolly Parton, answer that:
“And then, when she went into that, ‘I will always love you,’ ooh, it was one of the most overwhelming feelings I’ve ever had in my life,”
I couldn’t agree more and whether Dolly Parton is referring to the first more gentler time we hear Whitney Houston sing this line or that explosive moment towards the end of the song doesn’t really matter, you feel the deep sadness of it. The amount of time I spent listening to that song was almost unnatural however it was just so moving that I had to continue to relive that feeling it gave me over and over again.
People get the message of this song wrong because they attach it to the success of romantic love but lyrically it is about loss and the need to leave someone even though you still care and feel love for them. No one is ever easy to love (said Sharon) but sometimes you have to set people free, as the saying goes, because varying complex emotional circumstances mean you can’t be “in love” with that person. Making that commitment to leave is a form of love itself and when a relationship is over, you have to know when to walk away. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston is anthem for that sadness when you realise that you have to leave and end a relationship in order for each other to survive. It doesn’t mean that love ceases it just means that it needs space to grow and form a different kind of bond outside the realms of romantic love.
Perhaps my 9 going on 10 year old self was plugging into that but I think if I am being honest it was more about me daydreaming about how wonderful romantic love must be. Being the age I was meant that I only had the innocent view of that kind of feeling via big budget cinema and music of the time but it was enough to anchor me to the sigh of feeling romantic and yearning for someone. This song helped develop that yearning and while I still had no grasp on what these emotions were I did like feeling them. It both hurt and offered hope in this weirdly escapist kind of way.
My yearning to own a physical copy of “The Bodyguard” soundtrack only grew as 1993 progressed. As the singles from that album kept coming so did my love of Whitney Houston and her music. This yearning also extended to my desire to see “The Bodyguard” movie which happened later in 1993 when it was released on VHS and was available on new release from the local video store. This fixation I had on the heroics of big budget romance influenced my career decision at that point, I wanted to be a bodyguard when I grew up. That’s obviously a flawed plan considering that being a bodyguard is not about sharing a romance with a beautiful human being like Whitney Houston but instead a rather intense physical job that requires the kind of masculinity I did not possess. Looking back now I can simply chalk this up as another Kevin Costner related movie financing my dreams and ambitions for romantic love.
For that 18 month period however it was a serious career plan. Right about the same time that I saw the film I started to crave buying the soundtrack once again. I was happy with my taped from the radio versions but I wanted the real thing. This finally happened in early 1994 when Mum let me buy both “The Bodyguard” soundtrack and “So Far So Good” by Bryan Adams. Two of my favourite artists of that moment and the perfect cassette tapes to go with my recent December 1993 Birthday present of a Walkman. Now I could go deeper inside the music courtesy of headphones which opened up new was to experience the sadness of some of my favourite songs.
11. Jet by Paul McCartney
Turning 10 in December 1993 didn’t feel like a milestone because the sequence of celebratory ages felt like they began at 13 when you become a teenager. So it was just like any other Birthday except it would be mark two important moments for my growing love of art and music. The first was getting my very own cassette tape Walkman for my main birthday present. It came as a total surprise when I got it because I had no awareness that I even had ever expressed or mentioned that I wanted one. I already had an old tape player that me and my brother Ben received from our Aunty Urs years earlier. It was my most prized item at this point but I never really thought it was possible to listen to music any other way.
The Walkman felt like an Adults piece of technology and my only experience with one had been in 1988 when my Aunty Cath gifted me and my brother Ben her old one. It didn’t last very long as it was on the way out mechanically speaking so I didn’t really grasp the brilliance of the technology. The idea of listening to music on headphones was foreign to me and wasn’t something I understood in 1993 as being another way to listen to music. So to have this new way of listening gifted to me meant that my parents obviously had been noticing my love for art and music grow and helped facilitate that further by getting me the Walkman for my 10th birthday. This was the final piece of the puzzle because after this music shifted from being just entertainment, it became my spiritual purpose for being alive.
As you have probably observed, courtesy of this essay or any of my writing, The Beatles music has filled my life for as long as I can remember. In our house John, Paul, George and Ringo were held in high esteem and as a young boy they became these mythical figures of cool. As is the case with most young boys you build shrines to your superhero’s and in 1993 Paul McCartney was more than a musician and artist to me, he was a superhero. Having just released his 9th Solo album “Off The Ground” along with his upcoming Australian Tour there was a lot of attention on Paul McCartney that year. Thankfully for me this included Channel Seven televising his concert movie “Get Back” that documented the touring cycle for his 1989 release “Flowers In The Dirt” which was the first solo tour that included a lot of The Beatles hits after he refused to play them live for years.
This VHS recording became educational and was the first time I witnessed a lot of the Beatles hits beyond the songs I knew from “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” including “Hey Jude” which I thought was so fucking cool. I needed to somehow get this music from VHS to a cassette tape so I could listen to it in my room. It was like I couldn’t concentrate on anything else until I figured out how to achieve this. The only logical way was to turn the TV to full volume and stand in front of it with my tape recorder and dub it that way, so that’s what I did one Sunday morning. Seizing the moment where no one would be watching TV and to not be yelled at for having the volume so loud was a tricky thing to orchestrate. I did it though and the lazy Sunday sleep in ritual gave me the perfect opportunity.
For 90 minutes or so I stood in front of the television recording the Paul McCartney concert to a blank cassette tape. Surprisingly my Parents thought it was quite clever and we all benefited from my experiment. It sounded rather clear considering how I captured it and it allowed me to experience all of that music in my room and when we went anywhere in the car. I wore that dubbed cassette tape out playing it every chance I got. I just thought Paul McCartney was the fucking coolest.
One of the Birthday rituals in our family was getting $20.00 in a card from Nana and Pop who lived in Brisbane. In 1993 I used that money to purchase Paul’s 1987 greatest hits compilation “All The Best” on double cassette tape and my Mum was kind enough to chip in the extra cash to cover the cost. The opening run on side one of that tape was as follows:
2. Band On The Run
3. Coming Up
4. Ebony and Ivory
5. Listen To What The Man Said.
My little mind was blown and I am comfortable in stating that a lot of the architecture of what I love about music is contained within the first three tracks of “Jet,” “Band On The Run” and “Coming Up.” The weird structures, the deep grooves, the progressive changes, the lyrics and the riffs all wrapped up in pop skills was opening up parts of my mind to new possibilities. Courtesy of Paul McCartney I had started to drift closer to music as a creative vehicle and he was inspiring me to write my own music. Even though it would take a few more years to become a reality I wanted to be an artist and in particular a songwriter. Having been exposed to religion due to going to catholic schools, being my baptised faith, I had come to understand that Nuns and Priests spoke of a calling that they experienced in order to commit the sacrament of holy orders. In 1993 I felt that calling but it wasn’t to be a Priest, it was to the divine power of art and music. It was all I cared about and would do everything I could to make art and music front and centre of my search for meaning in this life.
By the very nature of circumstance “Jet” has become my favourite Paul McCartney composition due to the way it exploded through my headphones on my Walkman back in 1993. I felt like the entire “All The Best” cassette tape was the first time I really felt the power of listening to music via headphones. Hearing “Jet” in this way was pure rock n roll catharsis and it might be hard to understand but it sounded heavy and just came at me with an energy that felt rebellious and I guess you would call it a little punk rock even though I had no understanding at the time that such a genre existed. This cathartic maiden voyage with the “All The Best” cassette tape was helped by the decision to go for an afternoon walk around the block to engage the literal description of the Walkman. Such an activity was out of character for me but with the juxtaposition of being able to listen to music whilst being mobile, yet another future ritual was awoken in me. It wasn’t exercise if I put the headphones on and went for a walk, it was daydreaming with forward momentum.
When the opening stabs of “Jet” hit I was barely past the letterbox of our house but I remember having to steady myself because the power of it was overwhelming. I chuckled in that way you do when joy and excitement saturate you in happiness. My memory of that moment is so burned into my mind that it is impossible not to be transported back to that place each time I hear it.
It was always on the list of “things to do” for our family, to see Paul McCartney live and after all those years of waiting a Tour was announced in 2017. Being the vigilant fan that I am I was lucky enough to score tickets to the Brisbane show during the pre-sale. This was a beautiful moment for all involved and to know that I would share this moment with my Parents and my big brother Ben was quite special.
From the moment that Paul McCartney took the stage on that Saturday night in December 2017 I was in tears. I was a blubbering mess and it was uncontrollable however these were not sad tears, they were happy ones. The insane exchange of energy that was occurring was almost religious and during that opening run of songs I kept crying, because that’s the only reaction my body could illicit in order to deal with the enormous moment I was in. It had been 24 years since that 1993 experience and I was now 34 Years old. In that time period I had fulfilled my dreams of being an artist. In 1998 to 2001 my high school band Chinelaeo played two gigs and released an EP called “Her Beauty Does Ignite” and then I released a solo EP called “Narrative Fantasy” in 2001. Then after years of desperately trying to start a new band, I formed Cohagen Quaid who I played a multitude of gigs with in Brisbane and released one EP called “Winter and Her Sunrise” between 2006 and 2010. From 2010 until now my main group and proudest creative achievement as an artist came to be which was called Galapogos who so far have released four full length records and played so many gigs I stopped counting. That kind little fat boy held on and overcame his challenges and went after his dream of being able to create his own music and perform it live on a stage.
So when Paul McCartney kicked into “Jet” at that concert in 2017 it sent my emotions into a different stratosphere. It was intense and I was glad to have Mum holding my hand the whole way through it. In 2017 I had gone through an era of great change. I had just been made redundant from my day job of 13 years, my musical hero Chris Cornell had died in a tragic way and my godson Dominic James Newton was born. The momentum of Galapogos had slowed down and I was struggling with purpose. Everyone around me who was my age had settled down and were becoming more traditional adults. I was yo yo dieting and having a crisis of faith about my existence. There was a real darkness and sadness to it all and I was terrified about surviving to the next point of life. My optimism was low but I knew that I needed to navigate this sadness in order to find my way out of it. I was not much of a crier but the experience of seeing Paul McCartney play “Jet” was the moment of joy I was needing to help me feel justified in existing.
This moment helped me kick into my second act as a human being. In the same way it did in December 1993 the cathartic feeling of hearing “Jet” pushed all of that emotion out of me in 2017. It may not be a classic sad song but it acts as the antidote to it. That is the joy of Paul McCartney and his music, he lifts me from my sadness and process those dark emotions so that I can once again feel happiness. That is why it rounds out this list because of the way it transformed my life at two very crucial moments. It was honestly the greatest concert experience of my life. Hearing all of those amazing songs and being in the same space as Paul McCartney was like witnessing God himself sprinkle some of the good stuff into your atmosphere and remind you why being alive is so great. He also did a great job at reminding me why I love music so much and how his influence is so ingrained in my life. I may not have any of those “real world” achievements in my life but I do have a 2000 plus record collection, highly original band that I play in, family and friends I love dearly and now I can say that I got to participate in the “Hey Jude” singalong.
With Paul McCartney as the originator of my divine two, the kind little fat boy had a vision and a dream. To become a songwriter and artist would dominate the next decade for me from 1994 to 2004 when I was aged 11 to 21. The architecture of the eleven artists I have spoken about in part two of this essay loom large in what I would go onto listen to in the coming years. The common theme is always sadness and its diverse way of inspiring artists to express themselves. I had my challenges and reasons to be sad due to that first decade of my life but the healing nature of music continued to show up and guide me towards meaning. This is the great gift it can provide anyone and everyone, especially if you feel like an alien. Who knows where I would have ended up without it. That is too painful to even imagine because without these songs and artists I don’t think I could have survived. I give thanks everyday that I did discover all this music in my formative years because it allowed me to feel understood and to be more than the fat little boy that people saw. It taught me the value of emotional intelligence and that artists really are responsible for helping humanity survive and find meaning.
By: Daniel James Newton
To hear the mixtape accompaniment to this essay series just follow the playlist below on Spotify:
If this article brings up anything for you, please reach out to a safe person or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Heavy and Weird acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work, the Jagera and Turrbal people. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
Thank You for your support and please go and support these artists that I share – don’t just stream them – buy tickets to their concerts when you can, buy their merchandise and buy their albums on a physical format – respect the artists you consume by paying for it
footnote – link to Dolly Parton quote: