“He wanted to be as good as his heroes. He wanted to be a great songwriter”
When I wrote about Paul Kelly and his album Post, I said “Growing up and living in Australia, the music of Paul Kelly goes beyond something that’s just always there and taken for granted. It’s seemingly part of the fabric of the country.” And while I still believe that, I also realised that taking his presence for granted means I’ve never thought about where he or his music came from. It’s always been there, it’s hard to think of time when it one day won’t be there, so why does it matter where it all started? It matters, because Paul Kelly: Stories of Me tells such a great story about a man, and the time and places that made him.
From his childhood in Adelaide as one of half a dozen or so kids, to the death of his father when he was 10 years old, to his pilgrimage to Melbourne to pursue a life in music in the 70s, to his fleeting success as a pop star in the early 80s, to his reinvention as a singer songwriter, to his legendary status as the current godfather of Australian music, to his personal life and loves a long they way, to his insecurities and even a cheeky quarter century of heroin use. This really is complete collection of rock star clichés. And it’s great.
Pretty warts and all, but also made by someone who obviously loves Kelly and his music, this is the kind of documentary that delivers a familiar arc in a familiar way. But the subject is so interesting, that structural familiarity is never a problem. Talking to his many siblings, we get an affectionate, but open look at Kelly’s childhood. Talking to former band mates, we get stories of admiration, while never shying away from Kelly’s sometimes despotic and ruthless approach to leadership and ego. Talking to both of Kelly’s ex-wives, we get a frank but fare recounting of his rocky history with relationships.
Paul Kelly is one of those song writers who’s a story teller. His songs are three minute chunks of fully formed world’s, populated with fully formed characters. So the fact that hearing the man talk about his process was so interesting, was never a surprise. What was a surprise, was the great history lesson it gave me of my own country from that time. Seeing the Australia of the 70s and early 80s, and the state of the music scene in this country in those days, really was a treat.