My (Not Very) Brilliant Songwriting Career

I was thirteen, maybe fourteen, when I started writing songs.  They were purpose-made for the band I was in and none of us really knew how to go about being a group.  We began with other people’s songs and found, to our surprise, that when we performed them they bore little resemblance to the originals.  Anyone hearing us may have sensed something vaguely familiar but would’ve struggled to identify which song we were attempting to perform.  Put it this way – our renditions of other people’s songs were such that vegetarians were advised to steer clear; so grave were our acts of musical butchery.  So we started writing our songs of our own.

I took it seriously.  In my teenage years, I took everything seriously and songwriting was no exception.  Every spare moment, I would scribble lyrics on a notepad.  It was common for me to return to class after a ‘study’ period, clutching freshly-minted lyrics to a new masterpiece whilst having learned nothing of the periodic table or science generally.  To put this in perspective, I can only say that science has endured to this day but my lyrics have not.  It’s for the best.

The great thing about songwriting is that you can – consciously or otherwise – write to the strengths of the players.  Even though our cover material had more in common with a car wreck than actual music, our original music actually sounded like…. music.  But writing music is one thing.  Getting anyone else to care about it is another matter entirely. 

 I recall, vividly, being asked to play at the school’s end of year dance at the Bittern Town Hall.  For the occasion, we rented a public address system so powerful that our music could be heard from Frankston and, possibly, outer space.  It was more than Bittern Town Hall required.  When time came for our big performance, I strode purposefully onto stage as we began performing our original songs.  I put my hand to my forehead to see past the stage lights and saw abandoned floorboards.

 Our original music had the effect of repelling the occupants of the dance floor to the nearest wall, to which they then clung as they sought to endure our musical assault on the senses.  A night that had been full of dancing and teenage frivolity was instantly transformed into a test of endurance.  An audience desperate to hear ‘Holiday’ by Madonna was, instead, subjected to the over-wrought lyrics of my tortured teenage soul.  It’s a wonder that the entire school didn’t drop out. 

 Despite that experience, I continued writing songs.  My bandmates were supportive, but they probably hoped if I kept going that I would – eventually – write something half decent.  Just as, theoretically speaking, a monkey might type ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with enough time, my bandmates reasoned that I could – given a few decades – stumble by chance across something nearly as good as ‘Aga Do’ by Black Lace or anything by Kajagoogoo.  They waited in vain.

                The older I got, the less I was prone to treating the act of songwriting as therapy.  Songs could be playful.  Funny, even.  I discovered great songwriters like Loudon Wainwright III, John Prine and others who were able to include a fair dose of humour in their tunes.  Not that they couldn’t be touching or poignant too, more that their songs could be witty and engaging too.  It was inspiring.

 Things have changed a lot since I first started playing music.  You can now make a record in your bedroom and distribute it to the entire world through streaming platforms.  Granted, you’ll be paid a pittance but in theory at least, it’s easier to be heard than ever before.  These days, you don’t need a monster-sized public address system at the Bittern Town Hall.  Just a laptop.

 The local folk club had a theme night.  The theme in question was ‘heavenly bodies’.  There would, of course, be loads of songs about the stars and the moon.  It got me thinking – which planet doesn’t have a song?  The answer was both obvious and socially awkward.  That’s how we came to write a song about ‘Uranus’.  The premise of the song was to lament the fact that nobody writes songs about the planet Uranus and that things would be different if it had been given a better name.  I’ve never had more fun writing a song in my life.

 When the theme night arrived, there were lots of great songs from great songwriters, and lots of planets represented.  But not ours.  Ours would be the only song about Uranus.  At first I was confused by the audience response until someone explained they were clapping. In fact, instead of scrambling for the exit, people were laughing and cheering, particularly when we took songs by well-known artists and replaced the original planet with ‘Uranus’.  It was an entirely new experience.

There’s something to be said, I think, for persistence.  Or, perhaps, learning from your mistakes.  I’m not sure where we go to from here – Bittern Town Hall, probably.  But for the time being, ‘The Lonely Planet (No-one Sings About Uranus)’ by ‘A Band of Rain’ sits on streaming platforms for unwitting listeners to stumble across.  Maybe it will make them laugh.  Which, for a song, is a good thing.    

A Letter To My Fictional Son Who Lost His Phone In A Taxi.  Apparently.

There have been a lot of text messages.  They arrive from a number I don’t recognise with a message that reads: ‘Hi Dad, it’s your son.  I left my phone in a taxi and this is my new number.  I have an urgent bill I need to pay.  Please contact me.’  Obviously, it’s a message that shakes me to the core of my being.  I am overwhelmed with worry at the spectacular misfortune that has befallen my offspring.  So deep and profound is my sense of panic that I barely know where to start – should I call the embassy, the Army or roll up their sleeves and get on a plane to sort through the whole catastrophic mess.  But then I remembered – I don’t have a son.

It’s a scam, obviously.  One that relies on sending out a multitude of messages in the hope that, by chance, it will find a target.  Scammers are everywhere these days.  Seemingly, they live in your phone and emails.  There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get a phone call with an automated message threatening all manner of harm from some Government agency if I don’t pay them a sum of money immediately or a text at three in the morning saying that my package could not be delivered.  But even for scammers, the attempt to mine parental concern for profit is not so much scraping the bottom of the barrel as it was digging right through it.

I could, of course, ignore the message.  But then there would be more messages.  It was best to tackle it head on with a message to my fictional child.

“Son, we need to talk.

Your message announcing that you’d lost your phone did not come as a surprise to your mother and me.  Rather, it seems to be just the latest instalment in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of inexcusably stupid behaviour that commenced shortly after you were born and persists to the present day.  Put simply, son, you are a bona fide idiot of unimaginable proportions. 

You must think your parents are fools.  By our count, this is the eighth time in the past three weeks that you have lost your phone.  Clearly, you are mistaking it for a Frisbee, as nothing else could explain the rate at which you seem to surrender possession of your mobile.  It’s almost as though you’re losing it on purpose.  Drastic measures are now required.

Clearly, the most appropriate thing for you at this point is to abandon mobile phones entirely and return to a simpler, easier to use technology.  Which is why I’ve taken the step of purchasing you a pager.  From now on, if someone needs to communicate with you, they can send a message to your pager and you can make your way to the nearest payphone.  Say what you will about a payphone, but no one ever left one in the back of a taxi.

That you also have an urgent bill to pay comes as no surprise.  Presumably you have accumulated a significant debt with the taxi company to whom you so recklessly bequeathed your phone.  This may sound harsh, but I feel that the best course of action in these circumstances is to withhold any help (financial or emotional) and let the folks at the taxi company do their worst to shake a few dollars loose.  Who knows?  If they succeed, I might try the same thing the next time I catch you sneaking into the shed to steal my power tools.

Which brings me to my next point.  I think the time has come for you to stop coming to the house.  I would refer to these ‘visits’ save that I don’t feel the term is appropriate having regard for the financial and emotional devastation these sporadic appearances inflict on not only your mother and I, but the household pets, also.  Even the cat is upset for days after you darken our door.

Come to think of it, you’ve never been good with animals.  Your childhood resulted in the demise of more goldfish than I can count.  It took you a mere fifteen minutes to lose the budgerigar (maybe you mistook it for an iPhone) and there was the day that continues to live in infamy when you glued a guinea pig to each hand as a pair of improvised gloves simply because you said you were ‘cold’.  Joanie and Chachi were never the same after that.  For the good of the species, I made a point of never having a guinea pig for a pet ever again.

We’ve taken a vote and, sadly, the results are clear.  You’re out.  From this moment on, you are no longer a member of this family and we will be forgetting your name.  In the event that you have any procedural concerns, I can confirm that this outcome was one reached by secret ballot with your mother and I having one vote each.  The result was unanimous.

So, my child, farewell and best of luck.  In the event that you do, somehow, manage to retrieve your phone, please ensure that you delete my number.  It is, we feel, for the best.

Yours faithfully,

The Artist Formerly Known As Dad”

The scammers have not responded.  Granted, it’s probably extreme to disown your fictional child, but I feel that his imaginary life is such that a bit of tough love is required. 

The Berlin Waffle Doona Disaster

I thought I knew what I was doing.  I’ve been shopping by myself lots of times, mostly without incident.  Granted, there’s been the occasional oversight (and who amongst us hasn’t forgotten to get dishwashing tablets for several weeks in row?), but mostly I do a pretty good job.  It was, in retrospect, over-confidence that was my undoing.  That’s how I ended up with ‘European pillowcases’, but no European pillows.

Diamonds may well be forever, but the same can’t be said for doona covers.  Although, that said, I for one would gladly shell out thirty dollars for a ticket and a bucket of popcorn to see James Bond in ‘Doonas Are Forever’.  But, inevitably, there moral fabric of your doona cover will surrender and a great big gaping hole will open up.  You’re minding your own business when you hear it rip and there’s no turning back – the doona cover is blown and it’s time to get a new one.

I strode into the bedding store with a sense of purpose.  Browsing is for weaklings.  I wasn’t there to waste time, sniffling around like a two-legged truffle-pig.  No way.  I was there to hunt, gather and get out of there in the shortest time possible.  When the staff offered to assist, I waved them away.  With great intent, I strode across the shop floor towards a stack of doona covers that reached right up to the ceiling.  In the event that I was unexpectedly locked inside, I could use the doona cover tower to climb my way to freedom through the ceiling tiles.  

Because I’m nothing if not a creature of habit, I looked for something as close to my old doona design as possible.  That’s what led me to ‘Berlin Waffle’.  Not only did it look good; it put me in a mind to have a second breakfast.  Within moments, I had selected the right size and turned to begin the march to the cash register when I found myself pausing for a moment.  Having found my ‘Berlin Waffle’ doona cover in record time, I decided to build on my success and get some new pillowcases too.  It would be a total refresh.  What could be better?  Little did I know the kind of trouble I was letting myself in for.

I got three new pillowcases – also in ‘Berlin Waffle’ – to complement the doona cover.  As I dumped an armful of bedding on the front counter, I could tell that the staff were super-impressed with my efforts.  It was only upon returning home that my mistake became obvious – I had purchased European pillowcases.  I was unaware that ‘European pillow cases’ were even a thing.  Most people would, at that point, return to the point of purchase and request an exchange, but I sensed that I had totally burned my bridges and felt it unlikely that I could ever show my face there again.

The whole notion of a ‘European pillow’ has thrown me completely.  The cases are gigantic, and looking at the picture on the back (which, admittedly, would have been a good idea whilst I was still standing in the shop), I could see that the pillows themselves are nothing short of huge.  It’s hard to imagine a head big enough to warrant such a pillow.

The size of the thing is decidedly ‘off-brand’.  A ‘European laundry’ is basically a cupboard with whitegoods shoved in, whereas a ‘European pillow’ looks like something stuntmen might land on after they’ve thrown themselves off a building.  This glaring inconsistency has caused me to question the very notion of geographically specific products. I’ll never look at English ham, French mustard or a Dutch oven in quite the same way again.  The next time I get cut off in traffic and someone gives me a ‘Scotch Finger’; I won’t know what to think.

Having decided to keep three gigantic ‘European pillowcases’, I decided that the only thing I could do is get myself some enormous pillows.  This time, when I was offered help, I decided to take it and I can simply say that the range of options was as broad as the pillows themselves. 

It’s not often that you can put an exact dollar figure on your mistakes.  European pillows started at about thirty dollars, with the top end of the range going for something more like one hundred and seventy dollars.  The premium version was called ‘Super Goose Deluxe’ which, as it happens, was my nickname in high school.  Despite this, I opted for the cheaper model. 

Let me say now that it’s hard to steer a shopping trolley when it’s stuffed full of gigantic pillows.  It’s like being stuck behind clouds.  Upon getting home, I stuffed the European pillows into the European pillowcases and then, once I’d put them down, wondered where the bed has gone.  The person to pillow ratio in my house has now fundamentally altered in favour of the pillows.  There’s no turning back now.

I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, capable to solving most problems for myself.  But recent events have given me cause to reconsider.  Clearly, I am not quite the urban survivalist I thought I was.  I know I need to do better but I’m not sure how.  There must be some lesson I can learn, some chance for self-improvement.  It’ll come to me.  I’ll just have to sleep on it.  On my gigantic pillow.  Sweet dreams.