5 leftfield facts about Paul Kelly

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He loves hip-hop and footy, but took a while to come round to Radiohead

We've learned quite a bit about Paul Kelly over his 40-year career.

The legendary musician has offered us glimpse into his life through his work, but there are some things about him you might not know.

Here are a few odd little facts and pieces of wisdom we’ve uncovered from our interviews with the songwriter over the years.

It took seven years to write ‘To Her Door’

The Aussie anthem was so close to never having existed.

It’s not as if Kelly was slaving over the song for the better part of a decade, but there was a gulf of time between the writing of the music and the lyrics.

 

“I write lots of music that never gets lyrics to it,” he told triple j's Richard Kingsmill in 1998.

“I get little ideas on the guitar and I sing – or mumble more like it – into a tape recorder, and they just pile up, the tapes. Some of them get words to them, some of them just never do. I’ve got tapes since 1976.”

"'To Her Door' was a song that was lying around on a tape for seven years before I got words to it. I had forgotten about it and then I played an old tape and there it was. And I thought 'Oh, that's pretty good'."

He’s managed to merge ALF and Shakespeare

Paul Kelly really loves footy.

In 2015, he took two of his great loves – Shakespeare and AFL – and brought them together for a season-opening sonnet.

 

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From Paul Kelly's Facebook page

SONNET TO A NEW SHERRIN

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, 
So does a football hasten to its end, 
Each kick wearing it out a fraction more
Be it drop punt, mongrel, torp or banana bend.
A glory new and in its first sweet flight,
But every time it tumbles on the ground, 
Dull scuffs and mud against its glory fight 
And Time that gave, doth now his gift confound. 
Time does his work by stealth and by degrees
And kick by kick unfolds his tale of woe
With rain and roads and fences, dogs and trees 
And Dubbin cannot stop him, only slow.
And yet, to times, in hope, my verse shall stand, 
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Life is Fine is actually a poem

Poetry has been a key aspect of Paul Kelly’s life and career right from the start. Before Kelly wrote his first song, he was scratching out poems as he strived to find his voice.

“I didn’t really write my first song until I was around 21,” he told Double J this year. “But I’d been writing before that – short stories and poems, little fragments.

 

“My new record is called Life Is Fine. The title comes from a Langston Hughes poem. I put some music to the poem [and] made a song out of it, which is the last song on the record."

The album was an experimenation with his songwriting process.

“For most of the time I’ve been writing songs – about 30 years – I generally wrote music first and I had the idea if I wrote words first somehow it would constrain the music or put it on too narrow a rail or make the music rigid. But I was entirely wrong.”

He loves hip hop

“One of the reasons I probably picked up on hip hop is because it has a lot of connections to folk music,” he told Zan Rowe in 2013.

“It's a portable music, music that you don't need a whole lot of equipment to make. With folk music you can just pick up a guitar and make a song. With hip hop you can just make up your rhymes with just one beat. 

 

“Also, I think when I first started hearing hip hop, they were grabbing little bits from other songs – a little sample of this and a sample of that from elsewhere. That was a lot like folk music, where little phrases would be recycled. There was a common pool of imagery or phrases or lines that would reappear from song to song."

He says good hip hop is always playful with language.

“That's what I love about it, it's having fun with language. When you get a really good flow going, people are phrasing things across the beat. Always the unexpected thing is coming up. I try and get that in my songs, too.”

He resisted Radiohead for a long time

In the lead-up to his 1998 record Words and Music, Kelly was quite open about the impact Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer had on him.

“I fell under the spell of OK Computer,” he told Kingsmill in ’98. “A funny thing about that record – it’s one of those records that really gets under your skin. I played it over and over again for weeks and then I realised I didn't know one single word of the album. I couldn't have quoted a line or a lyric and I thought, ‘Well, that's interesting’."

The most powerful thing about Kelly’s love for OK Computer? He came to it with absolutely no affection for the band.

“I hated Radiohead,” he said. “I hated ‘Creep’. So, I was resistant to Radiohead for a long time."

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The vast majority of his album had already been recorded by the time he fell for Radiohead’s classic, meaning it gave him a sense of validation more so than inspiration. Though he concedes other members of his band may have brought some of their influence to his music.

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