Russell came up with the idea of a song that acknowledged the strength of a woman like Danielle. Being attached to a package like a movie star, politician, famous athlete, or any public figure brings with it a requirement for patience, confidence and poise that many relationships do not. Like many of Russell's song ideas, the lyric 'weight of a man' was one of a few dozen thoughts on this topic included on a sheet that he handed me and said, What do you think, mate?
I had a quick glance at the page and was immediately drawn to the title lyric and wished to retire to the W for a hard think about the rest of the words offered. Just as I was leaving, I asked how Russell thought the song should start. Not sure, he thought aloud. As the elevator doors closed, he said: Good night, mate. This could be heavy.
Did We Get From Saying I Love You? (Doyle)
The genesis of this tune was an awkward conversation, a coming of age epiphany.
I started the tune in 1995, but the incident occurred a few years previous when, just in my 20s, l experienced my first ‘adult break-up'. Throughout my teenage years, guys and gals got together and split up regularly, with no apparent long-lasting effects. The recovery time for a teenage break-up was about an hour-and-a-half, after which time the two ex-lovers were back as friends and moved on to the next opportunity, No - or little - harm done.
But on this day in the early 90's I happened upon my recently ex-girlfriend on the road and things were so very different between us. A short time before this we’d been saying ''I love you'' and whispering plans, promises, dreams and secrets. On this day, however, we could barley utter a passing comment on the weather. Our awkward conversation is remarkable for only two memorable truths: It was a cold day for September and there was rain expected in the afternoon. That's it. I was struck for the first time by the fact that adult relationships carry with them weight and power that teenage ones do not.
It is a fact that once you share an intimate personal relationship with another adult, and that relationship sours, your previous friendship may never be attained again. Most reasonable adults are aware of this, but on that cold day in September, I learned that lesson for the first time.
Of The Second Chance (Crowe/Doyle)
There is a painting by Charles Blackman called “Dream Of The Canecutter - The Passing Angels”. It is a beautifully poetic piece. I started to talk to Alan about it. He was intrigued – “What is a canecutter?'' was the first question.
In the oddest confluence of events, we had begun to exchange notes on the possibility of writing a song on the subject, referencing the painting by email, and we already had a chorus about the canecutter's life, inspired by the painting. A day or two later l went to Bill & Toni's on Stanley Street and ordered coffee. There were no free tables outside, so l asked a table of old men if l could join them and they kindly acquiesced.
I sat next to Mario; he came from Luka, outside Florence, emigrated in 1952. He'd just come from the dentist. He'd had a new denture fitted. I talked to Mario for three lattes and two plates of Vegemite on Turkish bread. Probably because I kept prompting him, l got to hear his whole fascinating life story.
It took me a couple of weeks to realize that Mario was my canecutter.
The verses came out in one night – every time I thought I'd finished, another part of his story came to mind. The one thing I know now, that I didn't know then, was that apart from his being rejected by a Spanish girl, Mario also married a Spanish girl.
Lachlan Dew was a 23-year-old bloke who worked for me at the farm. He was the caretaker at a property we have and his job was principally concerned with the health and welfare of the cows. However, his other job was the care and maintenance of a 40-acre block of trees we planted around four or five years ago. Lachie, as he was known, had a degree in forestry. He was a sweet and funny guy who knew how to do a day’s work. He came up to the farm one day because he'd heard in the village that I was looking for an extra hand to help out the manager.
After he had finished his degree he had applied, he said, for over 100 jobs to do with forestry, and the only thing he ever got offered was tree planting, something he'd already done a massive amount of while doing his course. He wanted something more challenging. In one of life's ironic turns, with no job in his chosen career materializing, he found himself doing the only job he could get in the area for a decent wage, working at a sawmill. How incredibly frustrating that must have been – someone who was dedicated to the care and protection of trees cutting lumber. With a touch of desperation in his voice, he told me he was the only bloke at the sawmill who still had all his fingers, and he really wanted to keep them. Working at the mill, however, meant that it was only a matter of time.
I gave him a job on the spot and told him about the eucalypt plantation. He was very excited about that part of the job.
He set about examining them, tree by tree, and uprooted 1000 or so that he thought hadn't quite struck well. He went into the bush, collected the seeds of the types of trees he wanted and replanted. They are all doing fine.
Tragically, while I was in Canada, Lachlan Dew lost his life. A car accident late at night on a country road – a tragedy all too common in the bush.
I enjoyed his company so much and l took it very hard. I was a long way from home and l knew the whole valley would be grieving. He was very well liked. His mum and dad are pillars of the community and he had a brood of loving and affectionate sisters that he would often talk about. I've been told it was the biggest funeral the valley had ever experienced.
So that's where l was when I started writing Raewyn.
I started thinking about Lachie's sisters and the senseless loss of their baby brother. I started to think how awful my life growing up would have been without my brother. I remembered something that I’d always known, but perhaps had never connected:
Both my parents had lost a sibling.
My Mother's sister, Raewyn, committed suicide at 21. She slashed her wrists in the bath.
My Father's younger brother, Charles, the youngest of four, died at 17 in a scuba diving accident. He was with my Grandfather, Jack, at the time.
I started to understand how my father might have been able to comfort my Mother because of the shared tragedy of losing their younger siblings. And also how powerful a bond it must be. I started to understand the guilt that must have wracked my Grandfather for the rest of his days. And the simmering anger that a lot of the women folk in my family seemed to feel for Jack whenever he was around, my Mother included.
I realized that I, too, had that anger toward him. I’d not been too fussed when he died, and had not spent that much time with him in the previous years. He was very provocative company – he would always manage to get my Mother upset, make jokes about her cooking and so on. She was a caterer, used to serving hundreds at a very high level, and it would irk her that he always found fault. Other people have told me that it was his sense of humour that my mother didn't understand. I've been told by many relatives that l attack my life in a similar way to him, and may have inherited the same sense of provocation in my humour.
One of the reasons we had moved back to New Zealand was to be closer to our relatives, but Jack died soon after we had got back – a matter of months, perhaps. We really hadn't gotten into the rhythm of life in New Zealand yet – a new school, the family living in a house for the first time since we had left New Zealand ten years prior – and we just hadn't spent that much time with Jack. Then one day he was gone. No warning – a heart attack while mowing the lawns.
The first time I really saw my Father cry was at Jack’s funeral. That funeral has haunted me throughout my life. Here was someone who I didn't feel I knew or understood, he was dead and his death was tearing my father apart. It was the deepest, most soul-wrenching grief, and it made me cry for days afterwards. And I felt so guilty that I didn't feel love for my Grandfather, though I knew I had loved him once. When I was little, he was always full of stories, but between six or seven and 14, I had hardly seen him.
Jack had been dead for 26 years when something changed in my life. Suddenly, after all this time, my Grandfather and I had something in common: a son called Charlie.
I'm not sure of the year of my Uncle Charlie's death. It may have been before I was born or just after – I’ll ask my father again tomorrow. It's too late at night – he'll be in bed now.
Charles Spencer Crowe was christened on the 7th of April 2005, at the Chapel on the farm in Nana Glen. The congregation sang ''Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. The Baptism was performed by Bishop Phillip Huggins.
On Uncle Peter, Russell writes:
I had a pretty negative relationship with my uncle Peter, dad's oldest brother – mainly, l think, because he used to scare the shit out of me.
He was an ethnomusicologist by trade and had spent a lot of time running around various jungles in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu working for various governments on various projects l know little about. Only one thing I remember was the aligning the spiritual growth of certain peoples with their invention of certain musical instruments. There were always creepy things around his house that he'd collected in his travels – shrunken heads, etc. He took me to 2001 – A Space Odyssey when I was about seven. That scared the shit out of me.
I visited him in 1991 in Toulouse, France, as a 27 year old. I hadn't seen him for years, he had developed a massive tolerance for cheap red wine and he managed to scare the shit out of me again – this time, with a motorcar.
He was once a very intelligent man, but cheap red wine can steal more than your fortune. Odd, though, that his angry antics are not what would scare me, but rather his thoughtless ability to either put you in danger or utterly embarrass you in public. I tried a couple of times to help my dad heal the rift between them, but it was always the same result.
His main problem with my music over the years was that ''anyone could have done this, anywhere – you are not present in the songs, they have no geo-socio-political integrity”.
Yeah…that's not as easy as it sounds.
Over time l have become as crotchety about musical integrity as he was. When I was a kid, it was just a laugh and something l enjoyed. Somewhere along the line it has become my healer, sometimes my only means of having a say. Music has saved my life more than once and enhances my life everyday. I hope the crotchety old prick knows I'm finally present in these songs, and it is probably due to him.
God's flashlight. It’s the morning sun, when you've been up all night doing things you probably shouldn't have been doing. Alan and I shared tales about similar experiences, and this was the phrase that was the catalyst for this song.
Mickey is a friend of mine. I've known and worked with him since 1995. We've been to the UK, Poland, Malta, Morocco, Canada, Mexico, LA, NY, Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama. Lots of places, including riding motorbikes from Coffs Harbour to Darwin in Australia and going off- road in a four-wheel drive to Darwin, California.
Mickey has led a colourful and chequered life. There are many reasons why Mickey should not still be here, but he is. He is an inspiration and a warning all in one. He has served his country, had dreams answered, traded in the sewer, played with the stars. He's hit the skids and he's dined with princesses, learned and re-learned, only to re-learn once more. He has built and rebuilt himself like an old Chevy and he keeps finding a way to let life fascinate him, as well as finding ways to make a valuable contribution every day of his working life. Situations just find Mickey. He is the quintessential, “I was walking along and ‘boom!’” type of guy, whatever boom is to the storyteller. Within his life there are definite wisdoms. My life is surely richer for his company.
is deaf as a post. But he doesn't know. Because he reckons he can't hear us
I've met quite a cast of characters in my travels, but few have been so immediately engaging as Michael Castellano. From the first glance at his ever-fading tattoos to the first greeting spoken through his never-fading Staten Island accent, Mickey is a walking storybook. I am drawn to those with a lust for life, life that inevitably has successes and follies. Mickey has seen them all and remains fascinated with each passing day. He remains the only man I've ever met who says, “Wow” and means it every time.
In The World (Crowe/Doyle)
character in this song is fictitious.
He sent me a letter once, just after the 2002 Rugby Union World Cup, polite, engaging and witty, yet he signed off: “Swing low sweet chariot”. Cheeky bugger for a royal.
For those of you who don’t follow the sport, England won the Rugby Union world cup that year – first time. They also won it against Australia, in Australia. A big achievement.
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is their victory song.
Reading that letter, it struck me just how normal Harry was. To take the opportunity for a well-deserved skite is the promise and prerogative of 18-year-old men.
Alan started to talk about a song idea in which there were three characters. One was a prince, born to his fate. The other a famous man, misunderstood. And the third, whose fame is based on that which is not true. We brought it back to the prince. Of course, this prince’s experience is sifted through my own.
Hand, My Heart (Crowe/Hunter)
Russell Gilbert coined the phrase – I don't know when, but sometime back in his history. When we toured together he would occasionally shake my hand and say it. I loved hearing it, and I love saying it to friends.
If you mean it, it is a great way to part company with someone you know you want to see again.
This song was recorded sometime between 3.45am and 4.15am, as songs of this genre should be. The lyrics and melody were in my head for months and I’d tried with other people to work it up, but none found the feel I intended.
Mr. Hunter, the Vicar, came to the fore after a long day's night at the farm. We got up from the dinner table and began constructing this song at the piano in the dinning room. Alan could hear that it was flying along so he went and reset the studio for recording a new track.
We sang it for hours – we only stopped when Stuart lost feeling from the hips down because he had been playing piano for 13 hours. I intended to re-record it, but the time and the moment help the song make its point.
Alcohol. I've had some good times, I have to admit. Then there were other times that were great (stole that off Bill Hicks, sorry). There's a lot of fun to be had…a day in the company of friends and strangers and strange friends over an ale or a pint or a lager, a shandy, a shot, a bevvie or a cocktail.
I remember a time in my youth when I started to get used to the whole sticky-skinned business of throwing up because of too much liquid bliss/jerk juice. I knew then that this was a bad sign. I’m going through another self-imposed alcohol free period. I love a drink, but I love being a dad a lot more and, as parents know, a hangover and a baby don't mix.
People seem to come and go in my life, but when I look around at family functions and milestone gatherings, it’s the same faces. Faces I’ve known since l was a little boy, a schoolboy, a teddy boy and as a man.
I think that makes me blessed.
Here's to anyone I've ever shared a drink with.
Good Year (Cleaves/Brooks)
In ’99 I had been in Austin for eight years, trying to make a name in the local music scene. I was still trying to find an audience, and I was nowhere near making a living. I felt like less than a man for having my wife work so hard to pay bills I couldn't pay. Every year I fell another two or three thousand dollars in debt. To try to catch up, I would occasionally check into a medical research facility as a professional human guinea pig (httor//www.slaid.com/stories/dayjob.html). For years I avoided a day job so l could work on songs, but eventually I took a job with a contractor friend. I didn't have any carpentry skills, so for myself I mostly did demolition.
When I was writing One Good Year I was wondering how much longer I could keep following this dream. Did I have what it takes or was I being foolish? Would the new record finally break me into where I could start paying my bills? For the first time in 10 years I was imagining what it would be like to quit and find some other career.
I was in my friend Karen Poston's living room in South Austin, trying out song ideas. We were catching up on our latest disappointments in life, and Karen said with a sigh, ''AII we need is one good year”. I said, ''That sounds like a song”. We worked on it for a while and didn't come up with anything. (But we wrote most of Horseshoe Lounge later that day).
Months later I wrote an early version of One Good Year, based on some trouble I saw a friend go through (lost his job, wife left and took the kids). But it was kind of predictable. I knew the song could be much better. So I sat down with Steve Brooks, another fellow Austin writer, and he injected some life into it and showed me a new, more interesting direction. I finished it up a few months later. Just in time to make it onto the Broke Down record. Steve and Karen don't get much recognition in Austin, but they each have a handful of truly brilliant songs, in my opinion
So l saw his show in Toronto, and he’d driven there himself in his van from Austin. I don’t know if me singing one of his songs will do anything for his career – I sure hope I don't make it go backwards. Somehow, sometime, someday, Slaid Cleaves will be known, for the right reasons – His songs.
My lovely old mate Richard Harris died. We had a plan in place to see each other soon and, although I knew he was sick, we kept talking as if our trip to Dublin was on and definite.
I went from Mexico to London to attend his funeral. Spent some time with his family and got thoroughly beyond respectable in the expected form for an Irishman's wake.
The next day I was inspired to experience the things Richard and I had talked about. I’d never been to Ireland so I went on a small pilgrimage to see Richard’s haunts.
At the place of his birth, Limerick, I had a pint at Charlie St. George's Pub, stayed in a couple of ancient castles he’d mentioned, visited the Wild Cliffs of Moher and went up to Galway.
This song is a choral requiem, written on a beer coaster in Dublin. We were supposed to attend the Australia vs. Ireland rugby test together in 2002. He died just prior.
I attended Lansdowne Road without him to watch the test match. As you may recall, Ireland won for the first time in 37 years. While the game was being played, with all the ridiculous mistakes the Australians were making, it occurred to me that Richard might be participating from beyond the grave.
Miss My Mind (Hyde)
Paul Hyde writes:
I wanted to write something describing the regrets and disappointments that often accompany the later years of peoples’ lives. The missed opportunities, the roads not taken, the insidious feeling of losing a grip on things. A life perhaps spent lining someone else's pockets. A song for someone worked to death on poor pay.
The chorus lines, ''Of all the things I've lost this year, I miss my mind the most'' were taken from a car bumper sticker. They seemed appropriate for the verses, which were written months earlier.
As I close out my 40s, I am becoming forgetful. Not all the time, but enough that my wife sometimes says I have sawdust between my ears.
Horrible thing... getting older. And it’s difficult to be graceful about it. Writing songs makes me feel young, so I keep writing…
Sawdust head keeps writing.
Alan Doyle introduced me to the music of Paul Hyde and to the legendary stories of prolific excess in song writing. This song felt like my recent life and sounded like me when I sang it.
So many strange and unexpected things happen, strange and unexpected people. I won't say exactly which year since ‘99 or so, but it's probably all of them. The year of 1999 marks the first time someone punched me in the head while I was taking a piss in a nightclub toilet.
In Australia, this is significant – it means you’re famous. The restriction of my freedom in nightclubs is probably one of the main reasons I eventually was worth considering for marriage.
I grew up in pubs – started work as a DJ in 1981. Nightclubs were a life habit, one I was glad to have broken. One I don't miss at all.
The brass came about in a late-night conversation with David Travers-Smith, Doctor of Music. One of the lyric lines kept reminding me of a time and place where clarity was reclaimed. For me, this is a song about coming through the other side of a hard time, and that there always will be hard times, and that some men are forever driven to make their mark.
Russell on Alan Doyle
Alan Doyle – funny chap. Doubly funny, in fact – both ha-ha and peculiar. You don’t find that often.
We seem to have the ability to clearly and simply write both separately and together on the same thing (and feel progress at every stage). I personally find it hard not to write a song in Alan’s presence – it’s either that or talk to him. And if I talk to him for too long, we’ll find something to write a song about.
I met Allan’s music, as it should be, through a Canadian in Canada in 1998. Fellow’s name was Kevin Durand. The Mighty Tree.
There is a song on this record that was on that first album given to me. A precious gift, mate, thanking both of you.
So I met Alan Doyle at the NHL awards, in a backstage corridor shaking hands and making apologies for regularly assassinating one of his songs with my band. He seemed okay about it. I got to finally see GBS in Toronto on that stage by the water.
He was very gracious and shared both the bottles of water he had in his VIP backstage, after show, rock star area – we had to move to the public bar to get a proper drink. Not a great punishment in Canada. So we had a chat and made a deal to attempt to write a song together. Over seven or so Sunday nights (when he is touring, Alan will inevitably go through Toronto on his way home to Petty Harbour, Newfoundland).
That song became Raewyn.
We have written others since, but that song is why.
Alan Doyle on Russell
Russell is the most thoughtful writer I've ever worked with. No one considers and ponders a lyric, a character, or a context like him. The whole experience has changed what I expect of myself as a lyricist.((Recording at the Farm was a dream gig for a lad like myself. Cracker band with TOFOG, Midnight Oil, and Silverchair alumni along with the Tony Wall, easily the best engineer I've ever sat beside, and the most top-of-the-line recording gear on the planet. Not to mention an outrageous vintage guitar collection and a choice of three vintage pianos. What a way to pass February and miss the heart of the Canadian winter.