Music is an experience. When we connect with our favourite songs, the feeling is like nothing else. But that isn’t where it ends; being a music fan is so much more. Every day we obsess about artists, analyse albums, buy records, read books and argue over lyrics with our friends.
In essence that’s what Brisbane’s inaugural Rock & Roll Writers Festival was all about. Putting aside more industry-minded conversations, the festival brought together fans, authors and musicians to share their musical insights.
Bursting with passion and not pulling any punches, there was enough information coming out of the event’s twelve panels to fill a novel of its own. Here are five standout moments.
Cold Chisel’s Don Walker reveals he’s a huge Kendrick fan
Music can bring about profound change, but bad politics alone doesn’t create good music. The Call Up panellists weighed in on what they felt made a truly great protest song. The consensus was that it’s those subtle moments.
For Pig City author Andrew Safford it’s the opening lyrics of Courtney Barnett’s Depreston or the final line of The Drones’ Taman Shud that show protest songs at their most poignant. These songs can’t stop a war, but they a create place where listeners can put their feelings.
An unexpected reveal came from Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker. It turns out that the man behind dad rock classics Khe San, Choir Girl and Cheap Wine has been getting into To Pimp a Butterfly. Walker had nothing but praise for Kendrick Lamar’s latest, although he sheepishly confessed he was turned on to the album by his 15 year old kids.
Freakin’ and peakin’ with Dune Rats’ BC Michaels and Bluejuice’s Jake Stone
The Freakin’ and Peakin’ panel featured a no holds barred discussion of alcohol, powder and pills. The panel tackled the age old question of whether drugs help or hinder an artist’s creativity.
Considering that Jake Stone formerly fronted a band which wrote Medication and that BC lays down drums on a track titled Dalai Lama Big Banana Marijuana, their answers may not have been too surprising. Regardless, it was great to witness such a candid discussion of drug-related issues.
The powerful messages of the indigenous panel
There was an infectious sense of defiance coming from the members of the indigenous community present for the Thou Shalt Not Steal panel. The panel discussed cultural storytelling and fittingly those present proved themselves excellent speakers.
The audience was leaning on their every word. “There was a time we had no legal protection. For us to make claims [on traditional land], we did it through song and ceremony” reflected the Kamilaroi nation’s Bob Weatherall. A key takeaway was that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists need to come together to better protect their rights.
Black or white, it was a message of empowerment. “We have a responsibility, an ability, to do something,” Bob implored.
Getting it on
To get the ball rolling the Let’s Get it On panel moderator Bec Mac polled the audience. “Who had sex this morning?” she enquired. The audience responded enthusiastically. “We’ve come out the other side of these Victorian values” shared Nikki McWatters, author of One Way or Another: The Story of a Girl Who Loved Rock Stars.
“There’s a therapeutic aspect to writing about sex. Its normal, it’s glorious and it’s beautiful,” she continued. But the former groupie warned that in her experience sex, drugs and rock and roll wasn’t always a winning formula. “We are programmed to adore the ideal, but it’s flawed” she mused. “It doesn’t equal good sex.” Writer Thomas Violence also shared some tips. When writing on the topic sex, he advised the audience to work under the maxim of one beer per 200 words.
Kiwi Composer Don McGlashin breaks down The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset
Dancing in The Dark’s speakers explored what gives songs their power. Music conveys meaning. Sometimes a single line can pack more complexity and emotional punch than a thousand words. As listeners we can overlook the nuance a vocalist injects into their lyrics.
Giving an impromptu performance of The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset, Don McGlashin showed how Ray Davies’ sliding delivery of nonsensical lyrics conveys his troubled state of mind more deeply and directly than writing ever could.
The Rock & Roll Writers Festival is Australia’s first, and only, literary festival devoted to exploring and celebrating the creative spark and relationship between writing and music. Find out more here.