Geezer Jamboree: Looking Back with Music

Mike Shuttleworth spent much of the 1980s listening to The Smiths and most of the past decade reading children’s and youth literature. He reflects here on musical nostalgia.

Writer, curator and Smiths aficionado, Mike Shuttleworth

Writer, curator and Smiths aficionado, Mike Shuttleworth

At Moonee Valley racetrack recently, 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 Rickie 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.

It seems we are fatally attracted to musical nostalgia. When does it arrive, this tipping point in our lives when we no longer tolerate new music? By which I mean genuinely new and not simply music that reminds us of the sounds that really blew our hair back - back in the days when we had hair?

Certainly a lot of rock music is designed explicitly to piss parents off. So it’s difficult when we become parents to swallow the edgy, the loud, the frivolous, which constitutes much of rock music. (I mean frivolous in a good way, too.) Are we in danger of clinging blindly (deafly?) to the old in fear of the new? Or is it that music pitched to the roiling currents of youth can no longer so readily enter our core feelings once we pass a certain age?

Like Moonee Valley, the Myer Music Bowl was packed, even if those on the lawn could be forgiven if they huddled for warmth. The theme of this geezer jamboree was transcendence. But given the audience paid around $110 each to be here, so this gig was as much about their involvement with 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.)

What songs you would leave behind; what songs you would take with you? Such questions are the luxury and privilege of middle-age. Surely twenty-somethings are too busy living, to sit on a freezing hillside contemplating their eternal soundtrack.

Portrait of Mike Shuttleworth

Mike Shuttleworth is a youth literature activist, organising events and writing about youth literature since 2002.