Saturday, December 19, 2015


There is little not to love about a mixtape, especially a well thought-out, emotionally invested one. I think the days of having to press record and play on your trusty tape player made them even more of a gift, but perhaps I'm just being nostalgic. One of my uni assignments this semester was to make a mixtape with words rather than music, to recall songs heard during pivotal life moments and how they made me feel. So I pressed rewind and this is what happened.

Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel 

I am 21 years old and two weeks into an indefinite stay in England when I find myself on a bus bound for the quaintly named Cotswolds. The grey of the sky and surrounding countryside has begun seeping into my bones. In my Sony Walkman I have a cassette, and Simon & Garfunkel are serenading me, in their strange and mournful way, as the bus window frames an endlessly rolling film and the soundtrack plays on in my head. I am heading to a job interview that might keep me here in England, and the thought of that is both slightly exciting and thoroughly depressing at the same time. The job is – again quaintly named – Mother’s Help, which if it were anywhere but the Cotswolds would have me thinking about Mick Jagger and running for the shelter of her Mother’s Little Helper, but I’m not in central London any more. 

I’m sittin’ in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination. On a tour of one-night stands, my suitcase and guitar in hand, and every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band. Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound.  

This music was made for these lonely grey fields, made for this bus ride to God knows where, this exact moment in my life when, not for the last time, things could seriously go either way. But the only way I really want to go is home.

Don’t Stand So Close to the Window, Paul Kelly
The rain has left rivers of salt on the outside of my bedroom window, but I am one storey up and would be risking death to regain my view. Ocean glimpses are nice, but they don’t mean that much to me. 
It’s my first flat – solid brick, Art Deco, a block of four two streets from the beach.  Spinster pad doesn’t have quite the same ring as the male equivalent, but that’s what it is. On summer afternoons I open all the windows and let the sea in. Then I try not to drown. I turn up Paul Kelly on my new stereo and forget that I have to work tomorrow. The window sills are wide enough to sit on and I usually do. Sometimes I imagine falling from here, leaning too far out the open window while I wait for the sound of his car. Oh my love, how we fell. What we’ve done now we never can tell. 
From where I am sitting I cannot see the bars.

Flame Trees, Sarah Blasko
I’m a million miles from a Blue Light Disco and Barnesy’s version of this song when I first hear Sarah Blasko spinning it from bogan anthem into poetry. I am days away from redundancy after holding a job I neither love nor hate for the past twenty years, and the heartache is rolling in and out like coal ships on a far too familiar horizon. This town and I have history, but who’s to say it’s not just sentimental bullshit? She sings these words like they’ve never been screamed by a hundred drunken bodies in a hundred beer-soaked back bars, and when she pitches that line: Do you remember, nothing stopped us on the field, in our day?  I am lost to an emotion with unknown origins. No longer young, no longer wanted on the factory floor, and wondering who will go and who will stay. Which one of us can tell the biggest lies?

Here If You Want, The Waifs

She’s alone on the stage, single spotlight, sweaty from a full set with the band, but there is something else she needs to say and she’s saying it to me. I could hazard a guess, but I’ll never know, why you put these walls up I can’t get through. It’s as though you want to be lonely and blue. There is just her voice in a cavernous theatre but it finds me. Over and over again it finds me. It pierces through the weight on my chest, through the cage that is my ribs, and sets the leaden bird free.

The Unwelcome Guest, Billy Bragg and Wilco
This song is my constant companion on the late and lonely drive back along the freeway from Sydney to Newcastle. I have babies in bed but I skulk through the dark mist and midnight like a robber on horseback. I don’t have a shiny black Bess, like Billy does, but a silver hatchback to carry me home from a night’s work. I’ve been lured by the big guns, The Financial Review, to do some casual work after my longest break from journalism in a decade. Like Billy’s highwayman, I’m doing it for the money and my conscience chooses the midnight run home to get the better of me. 
I don’t know good horse, as we trot in this dark here, if robbing the rich is for worse or for best. They take it by stealing, and lying and gambling, and I take it my way, my shiny black Bess.

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