Songs in the Key of Jane

We hear our names spoken thousands if not millions of times during our lives. It is no surprise then that we become conditioned to respond when we hear our name, even when it isn’t us being called.

I have a simple, old-fashioned name. Growing up I used to marvel at the extravagant spelling of Lady Jayne hairbrushes and combs. Imagine the luxury of a ‘y’ in your name. An upside of an unadorned name is that you don’t usually have to spell it, although I have been called all sorts of variations from Jan to Jenny, Jean to Joanne.

Another bonus is the number of songs out there celebrating Janes in a multitude of ways. Here are some standouts.

  • Janey Don’t You Lose Heart by Bruce Springsteen. I discovered this song by chance in a book review following the release of a biography of The Boss a few years ago. There was a passing reference to the song in the article and I tracked it down. Perfect for those moments when ‘you feel like a stranger … who knows too much’.
  • Sister Jane by New World was one of those songs from the early 1970s which seemed to appear on compilation record albums. Poor Jane was in a bit of strife for falling in love again and was being urged to leave town on a plane before she goes insane (oh the joys of rhyming). This clip is worth a look if only for the hairstyles.
  • Jane Says by Jane’s Addiction offers a much darker version. The Jane in this song is a prostitute with a drug habit and capacity for violence. She’s never been in love, doesn’t know what it’s like and only knows if someone wants her.
  • Maroon Five offered an entire album with Songs About Jane released in 2002.

Do you have a favourite ‘name’ song?

With a nod to the ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ podcast which provided the inspiration around name songs (ep 213).

[Photo: keys suspended near a lookout at Glenbrook with Penrith in the background] 

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Musical Moments: Three Trip-Inspired Tunes

Often the best times are those unscripted moments when there is a convergence of factors such as being in the right place at the right time. Recently I travelled from the mountains to the south coast along the beautiful coastline. Apart from the amazing scenery and surroundings, there were several musical moments which are now etched in my memory.

En route to Sydney, I stopped for a break at Lennox Bridge, Lapstone. After days of rain and mist, the sun was out and the surrounding bushland was alive with bird calls. I followed the sound of scratching and spotted a blackbird, which firmly lodged Blackbird in my mind.

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Blackbird at Lennox Bridge, Lapstone

Turning off the Princes Highway and onto the Grand Pacific Drive, the Bald Hill lookout at Stanwell Park offered a different flight of fancy. This is a popular launching spot for hang gliders, and whilst taking in the magnificent curve of the coastline, a glider came into view. The moment was pure magic as the glider seemed to levitate in the air till the brisk breeze moved them on. The line of a song that came to mind? “Suspended animation, a state of bliss”.

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Hang glider at Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Park

But the day still had more musical delights in store. It was hard to resist watching the sunshine fade at day’s end, the sky turning “rosy and grey”.

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South coast sunset views

Do you come across musical moments in your travels?

{Photo: view from Stanwell Park looking down the coast; the tiny speck above the ocean is the glider coming into view}

On A Nostalgic Note

It might be due to a sense of nostalgia but recently I found myself looking at record players online. The sum total of records in my life at this time? One: Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday. I recently bought it for a dollar at a community fete. I had flicked through the other offerings which included a bewildering number of tartan-inspired tunes celebrating Scottish heritage as well as a couple of spoken albums including an all-cast version of The Little Prince. Maybe I should have bought a couple more.

I had been tempted by some of the compilation albums featuring some of the big names and groups of the 1970s whilst smiling at the cover art. There was even an album in the stack celebrating James Cook with a mixture of jigs, classical music and poetry, the inside of the album containing drawings and exploratory maps.

Although I am wary of gathering more stuff in my life, there is room for records. I love listening to music and usually have the radio or an iPod shuffling in the background. A huge variety of music is available on various devices at any time. I still have boxes of CDs which I’m reluctant to let go, although most of my music is now digitalised. There are also old cassette tapes squirreled away too, mainly mix tapes carefully compiled for long trips or created by friends.

There has been a vinyl comeback in recent years with some artists embracing the format more than others. A browse on eBay turns up iconic albums re-released on vinyl.

So what is the appeal? Better sound quality. Listening to an album in the way it was intended, without the cherry-picking or just listening to the top-rated songs. To listen to the songs in order instead of ceaseless flitting from one thing to the next, even though compilation albums mix it up. To rediscover songs and memories on old albums discovered in future travels.

It is also to revisit, or attempt to revisit, my own musical history and memories. The first record that I can remember as a Christmas gift was Corroboree by Split Enz, the cover brown and black and white. Buying Crazy for You by Madonna as a 45 after seeing ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘ with teenage girlfriends. A whole range of music embedded in my memory from childhood from some of the hundreds of albums owned by parents, family and friends. The art of lining up the needle with precision on the desired track, the hiss and crackle of motes of dust. Cover art still vivid in my memory, including the helicopter shot on the front cover of ABBA’s album, Arrival.

Do records tap into nostalgic memories for you?

[Photo: front cover of the Billie Holiday album, Lady Sings The Blues]

I Wish Life Was More Like A Sunday

I came across this sentiment recently in notes I took a couple of years back whilst working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It was one of several items in a list of wishes that made me smile upon rediscovery. There is something about the sentiment that draws me still, so I thought I’d spend a moment or two on a Sunday and work out some of the elements of Sunday life that make it so special.

  • Sleep-ins. Best chance of a sleep in is on a Sunday. The working week is full of bustle, Saturdays fill up with things to do. Sundays are usually less hectic.
  • Catching up. A slower start to the day encourages a more leisurely pace. Sundays offer space for dawdling and pottering about, even if this means catching up on news missed during the week, or small chores left aside until a pocket of time appears. Sundays are full of such moments.
  • Sunshine. Not always guaranteed, of course, but if the weather is kind the temptation is strong to enjoy it with an outing or even just working in the garden with the sun on your shoulders. It is energising and grounding,  providing an energy store for workdays spent inside.
  • Just relaxing. That might sound obvious but without the usual bustle and to-doing, there is space to daydream or read a chapter in a book without interruption or haste, or listen – really listen – to the song playing in the background or the slower pace of the world outside.

What do Sundays mean to you?

[Photo: sunset in the Hartley valley]

Writing Prompt: A Musical Moment

One of my earliest memories of writing to music was when I was about ten years old. I can still picture the classroom and the pens poised over exercise books as we were instructed to listen to the music and to write what it brought to mind. The music was the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, and I wrote a poem about war and battle – hard not to as the canons boomed and the music built to a crescendo. The rattle of the drums and the call to arms was impossible to resist.

On a recent writing retreat, music was used as a prompt. There were three short pieces played, all exquisite and evoking surprisingly similar responses amongst the writers gathered around the table.  The first piece was a Norwegian folk song called Heiemo Og Nykkjen performed by Kirsten Braten-Berg. For me, the music was a melancholic song of farewell.

The music swirls around me, holding me close in its grasp. I want to weep, to turn back, to return to where I belong. But it is my song of farewell. My people are letting me go. I walk slowly, one heavy foot in front of the next. I know the tune so well; it is carved into my heart from so many other farewells. I have sung it myself when my brother left the valley, leaving our village behind. We were sure that he’d return, that it would only be a brief separation. But he has not returned. And now I, too, must go.

My sister’s voice lifts and as the notes tremble around me I stumble. But I cannot turn back now, as much as my heart breaks. I must continue on.

One of my fellow writing group members has written of the impact of the musical prompt session here.

Have you used music as a muse for writing?

[Photo: mural spotted in Hornsby next to second-hand bookshop The Bookplate]

My I Spy: something beginning with ‘R’

It feels like the end of this alphabetical quest is approaching, although there is still quite a bit of spying to be done. After the challenge of Q, spying for R felt like being spoilt for choice. This is what I came across.

Records

Records

Records

When I was growing up the record player was usually kept in a small, glassed-in room at the front of the house. It was a treat to be let loose and to be able to play from a selection of records, albums and singles such as these. There was an art to song selection, the careful alignment of needle and track. Rough handling led to scratches, the song lurching forward or being stuck in a groove. This stash of singles was spotted at an op shop. By chance, Racey was at the front with ‘Some Girls‘.

Radio

Radio

Radio

Not a huge leap, really, from records to radio. I like to have music on, especially when cooking or cleaning up. This radio picks up my local station and due to a mix of programs there is an element of surprise as to whether it will be a local program or something on a broader community network. I love the quirkiness of some of the shows, and the ease with which you can keep in touch with local news and events. It helps me to feel connected.

Rosella

Rosella

Rosella

On a dull day the magenta flash of rosella wings provide a jolt of colour, irresistibly drawing the eye. There are variants of the rosella across Australia with deviations in plumage and shape. The birds were originally named after the locality of Rose Hill (near Parramatta). But rosella is also the name given to a native shrub or small tree which bears fruit. It is used in jams which may create a degree of confusion if you (like me) mentally associate the word with a beautiful bird. The fruit can also be used in tea, syrup or cordial.

Red hat at Leura

Red hat at Leura

Red Hat

I spotted this beautiful felt hat many moons ago when I spent a weekend in the mountains to see if it could be somewhere that I could call home. It was in one of the boutique shops in Leura Mall, a popular stroll for tourists. I love the shape of it.

Rhino at Cowra

Rhino at Japanese Gardens, Cowra

Rhino

This brightly painted chap was visiting the Japanese gardens at Cowra when I spied him. Rather than looking incongruous he seemed to fit right in with the spring blossoms.

Have you spotted anything riveting beginning with R lately? Keep an eye on Autumn‘s excellent spying here, and atman.art.studio is posting alphabet inspired posts on Instagram. Now I’m off to spy something beginning with S.

A Friend for All Seasons

Recently I was able to catch up with one of my oldest friends, LJ. We met in primary school playing handball, or KP as it was known in our school. Throughout the decades we have remained in touch although our lives have taken various tangents and we now live in different states.

One of our ways of keeping in contact has been through correspondence. This ranges from postcards to lengthy letters, often on exquisite stationery and sent with a stack of photos to keep each other up to date with what matters most. If you have ever received a stylish envelope holding several folded pages of news, observations and updates, you will know the joy that it brings.

LJ has surprised me several times with carefully chosen books. When I moved to the mountains she gave me a copy of In The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer, the perfect introduction to living under dynamic, cloud-studded skies. In a nod to our continuing correspondence, she also sent me Women of Letters, a wide-ranging collection of heartfelt letters filled with humour and honesty.

Our long friendship means that we know habits and mannerisms, not only of each other, but of families and friends. We can commiserate and share stories of work place triumphs and challenges, along with the wisdom that comes with getting a little older. It also means that the back story is already there; we can communicate in shorthand, regardless of how long it is between catch ups. When we do connect there is a crossfire of ideas and stories, as well as sharing lists of books, music, podcasts and movies that each other might enjoy.

There are many attributes that I admire in LJ, including intelligence, compassion, humour and integrity. She has a keen sense of the absurd and doesn’t take everything too seriously. She has been there for me whenever I have needed her, as well as when I have been unable to see that I needed a friend. I know how lucky I am to have someone like her in my life.

Do you have a friend for all seasons?

[Photo: old tile spotted in a pub at Strathfield]

 

 

 

Words and Music*

Lately I’ve been enjoying the shape and texture of songs, finding comfort and inspiration in phrasings and images through music. For me words and music are intricately connected. From a writer’s perspective there is an economy in lyrics, the ability to condense the magnitude of emotion into a handful of lines.

When I’m away from my desk, thinking about where my current story or novel is going, music can provide a contrast or a clue as to how to move the story along. It is also an integral part of the writing process when I’m back at my desk, fingers pounding away as music swirls around me.

Some writers create special playlists for their novels. A few years ago I was at a writing conference in Mudgee and author Tristan Bancks gave a really engaging talk. He said that when he was working on a writing project part of his process was to create a playlist. This is a way for him to connect with the work and the characters. There is a link to his explanation of this on his website here.

Another writer who uses music is Tim Winton. There was a soundtrack released for Dirt Music which I came across by chance. The first CD has a great collection of, well, dirt music: music made without electricity. There are lots of great songs which resonate with the book’s themes and characters. The second CD has a collection of classical music, specially selected to tie in with the novel.

Do you listen to music when you write?

*Taken from one of Paul Kelly‘s many albums.

[Photo taken at the Mount Victoria & District Historial Museum]

 

 

 

Who listens to the radio?*

I stumbled across the local Blue Mountains radio station by chance when I first started to visit the area with a view to relocating here. My visits were usually on the weekend and I was taken in by the wide range of presenters, local news and musical selection.

One of my fondest memories of the transitional time was when I was moving my bits and pieces down, usually on a late Friday afternoon. There is a bend in the road just past Lithgow when Hassans Walls come into view, a stunning sight with the afternoon sun catching the golden tints in the sandstone. Wind your way down past Hartley, then make the giddy ascent through to Mt Victoria, fiddle with your radio and there it is, Radio Blue Mountains.

These Friday night trips often coincided with an evening show featuring two local identities riffing off each other verbally on a really wide range of topics, interspersed with music that ranged from contemporary to obscure artists and the occasional operatic aria. I was taken in and it made me feel connected on some level with this place that I was in the process of making my home.

There are some programs that I catch when I can – internet radio is a blessing if I’m out of range but need some of the familiar comfort of home – and I have been reminded of lots of music that I’ve loved but forgotten, as well as being introduced to many new artists and songs that have resonated with me.

The frequent community noticeboard messages and the traffic, train and weather reports keep me in the loop and informed during weather events, such as bushfires and snow. It is a great way of getting to know what’s happening and to feel part of mountain life.

How do you keep connected?

*Taken from the title of a song by The Sports.