Paul Kelly biography traces his journey but not his work with young artists today

Liz Giuffre, University of Technology Sydney

Review: Paul Kelly: The Man, the Music and Life in Between (Hatchette)

Stuart Coupe’s new biography of Paul Kelly takes many known elements of Kelly’s story and rouses them again. Paul Kelly: The Man, the Music and Life in Between reads the way a Kelly cover version sounds: familiar, but also a bit disorienting.

Old school music fans might go to the liner notes first – in this case the back cover and acknowledgements. Both detail the insights Coupe has drawn from others: hundreds of interviews, including Kelly himself and over 80 people thanked in the acknowledgements.


It’s a who’s who of Australian music from the last few decades – Archie Roach, Kasey Chambers, Kev Carmody, Vika and Linda Bull and Neil Finn – but not too many younger voices. Coupe’s emphasis is on how Kelly became, rather than who he is today.

The impressive interview list provides the choir that sings this cover version. Each person adds an extra layer: a solo to recall a key memory of Kelly as a band member, collaborator, business partner.

As Kelly’s former manager, Coupe also chimes in with his own testimony.

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If I could start today again

Large parts of Kelly’s early career have been lost to time, with records not added to the master log.

Particular casualties are his first two albums with The Dots, Talk (1981) and Manila (1982). Coupe’s interviews do however explore singles like Billy Baxter and Alive and Well, which have been left out of subsequent Kelly histories, including best of compilations and Kelly’s 2018 autobiography.

As Kelly explains it:

When I gained control of my work in the late nineties I simply chose not to make them available anymore. It wasn’t the fault of the bands on those records. It was me.

Studio recordings of this time are now hard to come by (as Coupe and his colleagues lament), though a few iconic Countdown snippets linger on.

The 1982 Countdown performance of Alive and Well captures the perspectives of some of Coupe’s interviewees. Kelly is working in collaboration, but also keen to draw the spotlight for himself. He is rake thin. Is this youth’s blessed metabolism, or the drug use many remember throughout the book?

The Paul Kelly he became in terms of sound and songwriting is here, but some of the interviews in Coupe’s book make the wobble of his head and unsteadiness of his gait hard to ignore.

Look so fine, feel so low

References to Kelly’s use of heroin in the past appear repeatedly in the biography. Fans will be curious to know how drugs influenced Kelly’s actual music, however Coupe doesn’t focus on Kelly’s writing process in this way. Some details are there, but nothing as forensic as Kelly has already offered himself in terms of craft and context. Instead, Coupe focuses on the machinations of the music industry.

As a songwriter, Kelly’s value was seen early. Accounts by Mushroom Records alumni and other associates from the early 1980s, show how his writing talent was privileged despite his unsteady performance style.

Still, Kelly’s songs were so popular so quickly that there was money to be made. Although many of the musicians in the book were left by the wayside as Kelly moved from project to project, his publisher continued to benefit.

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Deeper water

The biography brings readers to the present day, including the 2019 How To Make Gravy concert in the Domain in Sydney and his 2020 album releases (one in lockdown, and with Paul Grabowsky).

However, it would have been nice to see Coupe explore Kelly’s continued association with youth broadcaster Triple J and the newer artists and audiences who find him via contemporary collaborations.

Kelly’s 2016 collaboration with AB Original and Dan Sultan for Triple J’s Like A Version remains as much a step up for Kelly as it does for the younger musicians.

A reworking of Dumb Things, Kelly’s anthem (and his art) is sampled into a new context. Its energy is breathtaking.

How many teenagers discovered Kelly for the first time after this?

As well, the 2019 collaboration with Dan Sultan on Every Day My Mother’s Voice shows the fundamental connection Kelly continues to make with new audiences and artists – only vaguely referenced as “the Adam Goodes song” by Paul Luscombe in Coupe’s book.

While of, course, there had to be an end to Coupe’s address book, a bit more on these more recent and younger collaborators would strengthen this story and tell us more about where Kelly is going, not just where he has been.

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The Conversation

Liz Giuffre, Senior Lecturer in Communication, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jim Thompson is the perfect novelist for our crazed times

Susanna Lee, Georgetown University

Crime fiction often thrives in periods of social and political tension, when readers long for both justice and stability. So it’s no wonder that as the pandemic took root, crime fiction sales rose.

As I explain in my new book, “Detectives in the Shadows,” many of the protagonists of hard-boiled crime fiction, from Philip Marlowe to Jessica Jones, are models of moral authority, humility and empathy.

Doggedly pursuing justice, they defend those in distress, earning little for their efforts.

In 1945, novelist Raymond Chandler famously defined the hard-boiled hero as “a man … who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid… He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.”

These were reassuring characters who served as models of competent leadership and ideal authority figures. But it didn’t exactly paint the full American picture. In truth, no matter how many Marlowes or Joneses came to the rescue, signs of America’s deranged underbelly were always lurking just beneath the surface.

One crime author, the singularly harrowing Jim Thompson, gave this unique brand of American craziness center stage.

Unreliable, deceptive and sadistic

Author of more than 20 novels including “The Killer Inside Me,” “Pop. 1280” and “The Grifters,” Thompson created a sinister army of corrupt police, cunning con-artists and psychopathic murderers.

“The Killer Inside Me,” published in 1952, is his best-known novel. Its narrator is Lou Ford, a 29-year-old Texas sheriff who pretends to be a bland and boring rube but ends up committing every murder in the novel.

Unlike classic hard-boiled characters who understate their own misfortunes but have compassion for others, Ford exults when others suffer. He claims spiritual authority and a superior intellect but displays an “aw-shucks” helplessness to seem innocent.

Unreliable as a narrator, he talks in populist clichés – saying things like “haste makes waste” and “every cloud has a silver lining!” – while confiding in the reader that he “should have been a college professor or something like that.” He sometimes references his “sickness,” hinting he is schizophrenic, but he shows no signs of psychosis – only psychopathy.

Most of all, he consistently and calculatingly shirks responsibility, making sure others take the fall for his misdeeds. When a man witnesses him brutalize a town prostitute, he bullies that witness before murdering and framing him.

“Don’t you say I killed her,” he warns the terrified witness. “SHE KILLED HERSELF!”

The gaslit 1950s

The novel arrived at a period in American history that was rife with demagoguery, paranoia and manipulation.

In 1950, the National Security Council paper NSC 68 advised a massive buildup of military power in response to the threat of the Soviet Union. The report remarked that “a democracy can compensate for its natural vulnerability only if it maintains clearly superior overall power in its most inclusive sense,” and warns against our “tendency to expect too much from people widely divergent from us.” It would soon become apparent that retaining power – and a readiness to mistrust those deemed too different – were becoming fundamental to the country’s foreign policy.

Condemning others while behaving badly seemed to be a specialty of the early 1950s. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade was ruining lives with sensational and unsubstantiated allegations. In 1951, McCarthy accused former Secretary of State Gen. George Marshall of a “conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man,” arguing that his Marshall Plan was helping and appeasing the country’s enemies.

It’s no wonder that American novelist Norman Mailer called the 1950s “years of conformity and depression,” while “Homeward Bound” author Elaine Tyler May described the decade as one of “containment,” with fearful insularity as characteristic of American society as it was of foreign policy.

When Jim Thompson published “The Killer Inside Me,” Lion Books nominated it for the National Book Award, calling it “the most authentically original novel of the year.” An editor at the New American Library found in his books “the passions of men and women revealed in their naked, primeval fury.” Thompson’s characters, from the gloating gaslighter Lou Ford to the messianic delusionist Nick Corey, echoed the paranoid thoughts, delusions and deceptions already patent in 1950s politics.

The writer’s fiction dismantles point-by-point the classical hard-boiled heroes whose word was good and whose ethics were reliable. Its real bleakness comes from the vacuum that replaces any sense of accountability, empathy or reliability.

His novels are chilling precisely because they smash the beloved American illusion that with rugged individualism comes rugged integrity.

Echoes today

“The Killer Inside Me” is a testament to moral accountability exultantly shredded, and its resonance today is uncanny.

America has long embraced the figure of the unhinged or explosive person in entertainment, advertising, sports and politics.

But today’s craziness has reached another level. From Walmart to the White House, Americans are claiming to be both completely righteous and entirely blameless.

Whether it’s the Florida man advancing on fellow Costco shoppers, bellowing “I feel threatened!” the New Jersey woman trying to have innocent neighbors arrested for building a patio on their own property, or the president insisting that he takes no responsibility as over 150,000 Americans die of COVID-19, our current moment is the nightmarish version of society that Thompson envisioned.

As Stephen King famously wrote in the introduction to a 2011 edition of Killer, “In Lou Ford, Jim Thompson drew for the first time a picture of the Great American Sociopath.”

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In a sense, the conduct is not new, even if it now readily goes viral on social media. Men have long complained of blamelessness while harming women, and whites of both sexes have simulated fear while attacking people of color. The wealthy have long encouraged the poor to take personal responsibility for privations they themselves caused. Individuals historically most called to account are curiously those who have the least to answer for.

Those in power readily pass the buck, even managing to seem innocent or misguided. The contrived specter of helplessness – combined with claims of absolute conviction – create chaos and dissolve accountability. That Thompson did all this in a book famous for its bleakly sociopathic vision testifies to the insanity and abusiveness that surround us.

A torrent of lies and injustice has demoralized Americans much as it dejected Ford’s victims. To me, we are living in Thompson’s world and can only dream of such fundamentals as honesty, empathy and accountability.The Conversation

Susanna Lee, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Georgetown University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘The essential is invisible to the eye’: the wisdom of The Little Prince in lockdown

Chris Pietsch/AP

Julia Kindt, University of Sydney

In our series Art for Trying Times, authors nominate a work they turn to for solace or perspective during this pandemic.

During the lockdown in Sydney, I turned to my shelf of well-loved books and found Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Browsing through it again, I realised that the situation in which the book’s narrator finds himself uncannily resembled my own: crash-landed in the middle of a desert, his plane’s motor broken, he had nowhere to go.

He was stuck – stuck in a place that seemingly provided little hope of surprise or wonder.

The first night, then, I went to sleep on the sand, a thousand miles from any human habitation. I was more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

But little did he know! The next morning, a boy appears seemingly out of nowhere who claims to be a prince from a faraway planet.

His account of intergalactic travels takes the desert castaway to a number of places as strange as they are familiar: one planet inhabited by a king and nobody else, another by a conceited man, a third by a lamplighter, a fourth by a businessman, a fifth by a tippler and so on.

In Saint-Exupéry’s book, first published in French in 1941, the point is that all these individuals live in their own little worlds.

The king believes everybody arriving on his planet to be a subject. The conceited man considers each comer a potential admirer. The lamplighter turns the single streetlight on his little planet on and off, on and off, multiple times a day. The businessman counts all the stars he can see in the belief this will make them his own. The tippler drinks to forget that he feels guilty for drinking.

Even though they pursue different ends, there is a certain uniformity to these characters: in the uncompromising resoluteness with which they apply themselves to their tasks, they reduce and diminish their lives and worlds.

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The lockdown cuts back the radius of our actions. Even though some of the frantic activity that defines our days continues online, it deprives us of many of our usual interactions. No more twice-daily commutes, no more school runs, no more rushing to social engagements, no more travel.

Rather than looking for adventure outside, in public and faraway places, lockdown involves taking a fresh look at things close to home. And this long hard look in the mirror can bring the realisation that our pre-pandemic lives resembled those of the king, the conceited man, the lamplighter, the businessman, and perhaps even the tippler in more ways than we are prepared to admit.

‘People where you live,’ the little prince said, ‘grow five thousand roses in one garden, … yet they don’t find what they are looking for.’

In some sense, and in addition to other central themes such as love, friendship and loss, The Little Prince is a story about looking: about how we see only what we are prepared to see; about the narrowness that can come with our perspectives, professional and otherwise; about the way grownups and children look at the world differently.

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Reassessing in moments of rupture

Moments of rupture, of crisis, and distress, when everything we took for granted suddenly seems up in the air, always also harbour an opportunity to take stock and to reassess. To look at our life and the lives of those around us from the point of view of an intergalactic traveller, or, indeed, a child.

‘Men,’ said the little prince, ‘set out on their way in express trains, but they do not know what they are looking for. Then they rush about, and get excited, and turn round and round…’

Back home in lockdown with my little daughter (aged seven), I was fortunate to have my own guide who took me to once familiar but long-forgotten places: listening to the sounds of the sea in an empty seashell; throwing paper planes down a cliff; blowing dandelion seeds; gazing at the stars at night. Our radius had shrunk considerably. And yet the world seemed rich and marvellous and full of wonder.

At one point in the book, the little prince explains to the castaway that real seeing is not even a physical activity but a matter of the heart.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Richard Kiley and Steven Warner in a 1974 film version of The Little Prince.
Paramount Pictures

What changes our world and our being in the world is that there are things, activities, and people we care for deeply; and we make them as special (for us) as they are. In Saint-Exupéry’s book it is a flower with four thorns back on his home planet, that the little prince misses and holds dear. But it could be anything, really …

Saint-Exupéry’s book ends with the little prince returning home and the narrator repairing his plane and returning to civilisation. And yet, he never looks at the world again with the same eyes.

The knowledge that somewhere up there among the myriad little planets there was one with a prince and his beloved flower, a sheep, and three volcanoes (one extinct) made all the difference.

And what about us? Will we too look at the world differently once this has passed? Or will we return to the routines and habits that defined our worlds before?

Ask yourselves: Is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes …The Conversation

Julia Kindt, Professor, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Chaucer’s great poem Troilus and Criseyde: perfect reading while under siege from a virus

Chaucer at the Court of Edward III by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893)

Stephanie Trigg, University of Melbourne

In our series Art for Trying Times, authors nominate a work they turn to for solace or perspective during this pandemic.

The Greeks are at the gates, and the city of Troy is under siege.

Every day, the Trojans ride out to do battle with Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax and the aggrieved husband Menelaus, whose wife Helen has been abducted by the Trojan prince Paris. But despite this crisis, the Trojan leisured classes carry on with their lives.

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One joyful spring morning, when the sun is shining and the meadows are filled with flowers, a beautiful young widow, Criseyde, sits in her palace, in a paved parlour with two other ladies, while a young maiden reads to them the story of another siege, that of the Greek city of Thebes.

This pleasant scene is interrupted by Criseyde’s uncle Pandarus, who is bringing the astonishing news that Paris’s younger brother Troilus has fallen in love with her.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his great romance Troilus and Criseyde around 1386. I teach this text every year in my honours class. It is long and difficult, and we normally spend half the semester working through the poem. Even then we don’t read it all in detail.

This year, the global pandemic brings a new context for reading this poem about a passionate but doomed love affair between two Trojans, conducted under siege conditions, in addition to all the constraints Chaucer’s very medieval lovers place around themselves.

A secret affair

Chaucer’s language in this text is rich and ornate, and the poem is written in a rhyming stanza whose syntax ranges from elegant to knotty. The narrative is both leisurely and intense.

It offers philosophical digressions about the nature of free will and predestination; but it is also full of intricate private meditations, and absorbing, intense conversations between the three main characters.

Book cover: medieval painting of couple


Nothing in the brutal rough and tumble of Shakespeare’s later play Troilus and Cressida can prepare you for the lyric drama of this poem.

Criseyde’s father has abandoned Troy and gone over to the Greek camp. She has been allowed to remain in Troy, but she is very vulnerable and fearful. The love affair must remain secret to protect her honour; Troilus and Criseyde cannot marry because he is a prince and she is the daughter of a traitor; and nor can they leave Troy and abandon their city.

They are also both overcome by shyness, dread, and reluctance to speak to each other. Indeed, the lovers do not exchange a single word until the beginning of the third book, and by the beginning of the fifth and final book they have parted, never to meet again.

Every year my students bring fresh insights to this poem’s emotional and cultural drama. Although I am on long service leave this semester, I am still conducting my annual reading of the poem on Zoom with a group of friends and colleagues.

Our Middle English Reading Group is made up of staff, present and former students, and members of a thriving community of scholars and lovers of medieval and early modern culture.

This year, reading together through Zoom offers a powerful contrast with Chaucer’s scene of medieval women’s communal reading.

Leisurely yet intense language fills rhyming stanza – all seven hours of them.

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Reading aloud

When Pandarus enters Criseyde’s paved parlour, where the maiden is reading from the book about the siege of Thebes, she greets him warmly and brings him to sit next to her. Hoping to turn her mood to thoughts of love, he asks what they are reading: is it a book about love? Is there anything he can learn?

Criseyde teases her uncle and when they have finished laughing she tells him where they are up to. She points to “thise lettres rede,” the rubricated or decoratively coloured chapter heading that introduces the next section.

Pandarus replies that he knows all about that sorrowful story but insists they should turn their thoughts to spring, as a prelude to introducing his news about Troilus. He invites her to dance but Criseyde recoils in horror. As a widow, she says, it would be better for her to live in a cave, to pray, and read the lives of the saints.

In typical Chaucerian fashion, this passage shows a female character’s awareness of what she might do, and perhaps should do, but does not.

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Unhappy endings

The domestic charms of this safe interior space, Pandarus’ fearful invitation, and the pleasures of reading and talking about familiar books distract us from the dreadful history lesson in the book they are reading. For just as Thebes was destroyed under siege, so too will Troy be.

Chaucer’s readers knew this; we know it; and even Criseyde’s father, a soothsayer, knows it: he has already abandoned Troy and gone over to the Greek camp, leaving her unprotected except for her uncle who is about to embroil her in the complexities of Trojan court politics.

Book cover: writer Chaucer


We know that this love story will turn out badly. In the very first stanza, Chaucer has told us the ending of the story: that Troilus will win Criseyde, but that she will forsake him.

Knowing the ending doesn’t affect our pleasure in this text. And so we read on, absorbed by Chaucer’s capacity to conjure the lives of others as they balance distress with hope, and external disaster with private joy.

Like the Trojans, we may not be able to learn from the past so as to avoid disaster. But Chaucer is forgiving, and offers us the seductive pleasures of reading and rereading, and the comfort of repetition.

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Stephanie Trigg, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor of English Literature, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Awards

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