Bedroom, Williamstown, 11.30pm, 2007
To listen to Feelings Of Grief is to swim out beyond the buoys, where the water is too deep and the shore too distant.
After I first heard Feelings Of Grief, the opening song on Paul Kelly’s 2007 album Stolen Apples, I wondered if I was game enough to hear it again. I was afraid of where it might take me. And I worried my initial response was an over-reaction. Maybe it was just another song on the radio.
But when I read that Kelly would be opening every gig of his Stolen Apples tour with Feelings Of Grief, I knew I wouldn’t be buying a ticket. I didn’t want to be in tears after the first verse of the night’s first song, crying for my brother and for my parents, and for the grief of life.
I first heard the song on the little bedside radio, at about eleven thirty in the evening. Trying to get warm. Waiting for my wife. Falling asleep.
I next heard it a few days later, after I’d bought Stolen Apples from the local independent CD shop.
As I do with most new albums, I gave Stolen Apples the ‘kitchen’ test. If the songs catch my ear amongst the slicing and dicing and frying and dish-washing and kids coming home from school and the phone ringing and the TV playing, then I know I’ve got myself a good album.
Stolen Apples passed the test.
Feelings Of Grief begins with a mournful one-minute solo from an instrument listed as a ‘mey’. Not quite a trumpet, not quite a bugle. More like a clarinet, an eastern or Asian clarinet.
The song then finds a more formal rhythm, a slow beat that takes you into four short verses where Kelly sings of grief breaking over me/Wave after wave like the rolling sea.
For five minutes the song rises and falls, rises and falls, until there’s just a drumbeat fading to silence, the silence of a deep well.
Is Kelly grieving for anyone in particular? Presumably so. Do we know who the person is? No, except for the words my friend. And that is all we need to know.
No matter what you might read about ‘moving on’ or ‘moving forward’ or ‘closure’, grief, like this Paul Kelly song, never goes away.
I didn’t cry when I first watched Feelings Of Grief on YouTube, sitting at my desk. But I was nervous, I was anxious. I could feel a tightness in my chest, in my face, in my throat.
But I relaxed as the song progressed and thanked music for its ability to calm and to heal.
© Vin Maskell
This story was first published at australianrules.com.au and then in The Big Issue (November 2009).