David Oke
2005 ARIA Awards and July 2015 Woodend

As someone aged in their late 50s I guess I have progressed through the fairly normal sequence of losing loved ones – grandparents, uncles, aunties, parents, cousins, friends. There is a line in the Paul Kelly song Deeper Water that goes: But death doesn’t care just who it destroys…. and to me, the truth about mortality kicks in when you lose a school buddy, a friend, a known personality or a work colleague who is close to your own age.

In March 2005 I was rattled by the untimely death of Paul Hester, who took his own life. Not only had I loved the music of Crowded House, of which Paul was the drummer, but I had enjoyed his antics in the TV show Hessie’s Shed and even as Paul The Cook in my children’s Wiggles videos. Paul was only a little older than me, but he had two children that would have been the same age as mine. He too resided in Melbourne. I had read about his struggle with depression and mental health issues but could not fathom that he had committed suicide.

A beautiful and very memorable tribute to Paul was from Neil Finn in October at the 2005 ARIA awards where he performed the famous Crowded House number Better Be Home Soon. You can tell by the catch in Neil Finn’s voice that it was a tough gig to play and sing this for his former band mate. I clearly remember the footage of Paul being played. I remember it bringing a tear to my eye.

The lyrics of Better Be Home Soon have been interpreted in many ways. It might be about a relationship where the partner is ‘absent’, but possibly, not physically. It seems to be a cry out for restoring a relationship and for partners being honest with one another.

Somewhere deep inside
Something’s got a hold on you
And it’s pushing me aside
See it stretch on forever

I know I’m right
For the first time in my life
That’s why I tell you
You’d better be home soon

Stripping back the coats
Of lies and deception
Back to nothingness
Like a week in the desert

I know I’m right
For the first time in my life
That’s why I tell you
You’d better be home soon

Another interpretation is that Neil is singing about his relationship with Paul, that he is well aware of Paul’s struggles and that Paul needs to be in the security of ‘being safe at home’. Whatever the true meaning of the song, it is beautiful, emotional and a cry out to come to the security of home – wherever home might be.

Roll on ten years to July 2015. I was at a funeral of a teaching colleague, Frances, who had passed away after a short illness. In the full church at Woodend we sat remembering her and contemplating how things will be different without her. I had worked in the same grade levels as her, been on our union branch executive together for years and often shared a joke and a laugh. There was only a couple of years difference between us.

When it came to the PowerPoint slide show of her life one of the backing songs was Better Be Home Soon. Like Neil Finn singing that song for Hessie ten years earlier, I was struck by the beauty, emotion and sentiment of that song, but this time in the context as a tribute for my friend Frances.

In that ceremony our heartache was intensified by her daughter speaking some very personal words about her mum, and by her dad singing an Irish blessing to Frances.

Better Be Home Soon had once again brought a tear to my eye. Better Be Home Soon had once again become an emotional musical accompaniment to sorrow, loss, contemplation and grief.

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.