At Moonee Valley racetrack last Saturday, Daryl Braithwaite was whipping the crowd up with his 1991 hit Horses. No finer music critic than Drew Morphett observed that ’20 years ago Darryl seemed gone for all money, and yet here he is, the crowd in the palm of his hand’.
Later that night Ricki Lee Jones, the writer of Horses, was doing similar at the Myer Music Bowl, lacking only Darryl’s equine anthem. Ms Jones joined Sinead O’Connor and John Cale, others whom we might say did their best work in another generation, or two, or three. An appearance from Archie Roach was cancelled due to his suffering a stroke a week prior. Only the indigenous quartet - Dan Sultan, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Ursula Yovich and Leah Flanagan - could be said to be of more recent or current times. The occasion was the closing night of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
(Dan Sultan, delivering the goods.)
The theme of this geezer jamboree was transcendence. A topic those of us greying at the temples, thin of pate and/or thick of waist, might easily turn to. The artists’ brief was simple: select and perform seven songs ‘to leave behind’. Which is, I guess, an elaborate version of the parlour game: ‘what song would you have played at your funeral?’ Each performer also chose a Leonard Cohen song. (Had Leonard been in attendance the average performer age would have risen by at least a decade.)
John Cale, who could make a case for popularising Cohen’s anthem Hallelujah, evaded time's tidemark with a bent version of Heartbreak Hotel. This stratagem seemed like the novelist dabbling in historical fiction, a neat sidestep around more current concerns.
Like Moonee Valley, the Myer Music Bowl was packed, even if those on the lawn could be forgiven if they huddled for warmth. But given the audience paid around $110 each to be here, this gig was as much about their involvement with transcendence. What songs you would leave behind; what songs you would take with you? Perhaps such questions are the luxury and privilege of middle-age. Surely twenty-somethings are too busy living, than to sit on a freezing hillside contemplating their eternal soundtrack.
A slightly different version of this post appeared on the Wheeler Centre website.
(Thanks to George Dunford.)