Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mary Gautier

January, 2011: One of the upside of finding myself at home on Saturday night is that, at ten o' clock, Felicity Urquhart's 'Saturday Night Country' show starts up on Radio National. It is a revelation to listen to the radio and to hear songs I actually like! I lie in bed, reading and listening. When Felicity played Mary Gautier's (google-challengingly pronounced "Go-Shay") song I DRINK, it was one of those listening experiences where all my concentration hung on each line as it unfurled, making me gasp with admiration: each perfectly-chosen word paints a picture, tells a story, evokes an emotion, with simplicity and dark depths. Who would have thought you could give profound significance to the lines: "Chicken TV dinner, six minutes on defrost, three on high, beer to wash it down with then another little whiskey on the side"? Or "I know what I am, but I don't give a damn"? I suppose I have a vested interest in what it's like to be an alcoholic, having gone out with so many of them. So it was a song that kind of answered questions...kind of.
It's a feat to write a simple song about a big subject close to your heart. I end up writing novels about the big subjects close to my heart. But Mary Gautier has the restraint, and the turn of mind, that can distill the big subject into two verses, a chorus and a one-line middle-8. It's awe-striking. In almost equal parts, it both inspires me to greater songwriting heights, and also makes me want to throw in the towel. The 'inspire' part is slightly greater, so I keep going, consoling myself with, "Oh, well, being second-rate isn't so bad."

P.S. I saw Bill Chambers supporting Kasey last night at Rooty Hill RSL. I think Bill has his good points, but I'm not sure that he's a frontman, and I haven't yet heard a song of his that impresses me. And last night he said, "Here's a drinking song," and sang I DRINK, ripping the heart right out of it. He didn't even credit Mary Gautier. He made the lines, "I know what I am, and I don't give a damn" sound swaggering and boastful. The last line of the chorus - "I drink" - had none of Mary's fatalism, or wretched matter-of-factness. He made it sound like a Slim Dusty song. He should be prohibited from singing it. I said to Sophie, who was taking the opportunity to check the weather on her Iphone, "He ripped the heart out of that song." She replied, "Are you surprised?" But I don't mean to hoe into Bill, I like him. He just missed the point of I DRINK.

A beautiful live performance by Mary, with arty violin.  It's so restrained!  I teared up all over again, watching it:

And here's Bill.  Is my criticism fair?