You probably think this song is about you, don’t you?

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
June 23, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

Sometimes we just get sucked into a story. Reason, caution and scepticism sometimes just get swiftly sidelined for a story that’s captivating. And sometimes, along the gay girl in Syria, Colorado balloon boy and Texas mass grave lines, the whole thing turns out to be a hoax. To be bogus. To be sleight of hand and shoddy journalism. And we want blood. Or at least, a convincing bloody apology.

And then there are those news items where the story appears so hoaxy, so bogus, so completely and utterly horrible that we’ll keep our fingers crossed hoping it’s a sham while sadly knowing that life’s never that kind.

Steve Kilbey writing personalised songs for cash is one of these latter stories.

Under the Milky Way. Gold. The Unguarded Moment. Perfect. Almost With You. Would get listened to a whole lot more if it didn’t make me cry.

My dismay at this story wasn’t grounded in “sell out” accusations. As a writer who pays her rent as an academic, I live the reality that dollars don’t always roll in doing only what we love. A little tweaking, a little cunning and a little selling out is often par for the course.

And neither was my dismay a lament about the state of the Australian music industry. Sure, it’s quite deplorable that Kilbey’s income averages at little more than the dole, but to pretend that everybody can be paid by the barrow for doing what they love is ludicrous.

Instead, my sadness stemmed from the thoroughly unpalatable notion that anybody would actually ring Kilbey – Kilbey, one of Australia’s finest songwriters – and flagrantly ask him to pen them a ditty. Have they no shame? No respect for the artist? No respect for their own dignity? Would they pay him in cash? Yet, how could I be surprised?

Yet, how could I be surprised?

People wanting their likenesses glorified in art is nothing new. Centuries-old paintings that we consider today as masterpieces were commissions. Unlikely paid for via Paypal, but nonetheless, the transaction is the same.

Artists taking advantage of cashed up narcissists is hardly newsworthy.

And yet, let’s not pretend that it doesn’t takes away some of the romance.

I’m actually not one of those writers who believes that the process is lofty or ethereal. And yet, while I’d be the first to answer the “how do you write?” question with a “sit down and bloody do it” answer, I’m still starry-eyed enough to think that something vaguely inspired is involved. Particularly in song writing.

In an episode of sitcom 30 Rock, Jack records a video message for his unborn child. The video includes hokey life tips and state secrets and at one point he divulges, “The song You’re So Vain was in fact written… by me.” The pause-“by me” punchline is funny because the audience expects that Jack would claim that the song was written about him; instead, his confession is even more incredulous.

Of course, all kinds of brazen Casanovas have claimed that they are the apricot-scarfed jerk in the song: serial pest Warren Beatty once shamelessly chimed, “Let’s be honest, that song is about me”.

That forty years on from the release of the Carly Simon hit and we’re still intrigued about the identity of the lothario – that an NBC executive gave $50,000 to charity to find out – is testimony to the fact that audiences love the game, the secrecy, love the fact that there’s a story behind Mona Lisa’s smile. The mystery underpins our rapture.

Knowing that the latest Kilbey tune is about Nanna’s upcoming 80th birthday and her fondness for rhubarb or was written to commemorate Shaz and Danthony’s nuptials will just never have the same enigma.

Art? Sure. Commercial? Indeed. Inspired? Nah, not really.

© Lauren Rosewarne