I was faced with a choice, at a difficult age. Would I write a book, or should I take to the stage

Monday, October 31


One of the best things that has happened in Australian pop blogging this year is that the ladies down at CFBgoespop have abandoned their highly unpopular decision to close down their collaborative wonderland at the end of 2005, after 4 acclaimed series of busting it out on Girlfriend, Collette, Venke Knutson and similar. They are keeping it going for 2006! To be frightfully honest, we don't always understand what's going on over at the Pop, but like being a kid being allowed to hang out with your glamourous and cool older sister and her good girlfriends as they pore over The Face or similar, reading them, we feel like we're getting a glimpse into a unique world of wit, celebrity friends and special great jokes - knowledge of which will help us become cooler in our OWN circles. We KNEW Claire and Alyson would come through with something amazing for us on Help I'm A Fish (they did open the Pop Investigation Unit for us as a result of their invitation to last year's Fop Symposium, after all) and they have COME THROUGH FOR US ONCE AGAIN, lovely things... (Still confused? Read this perhaps .)

When I was first employed by Channel 9, one of my first ever jobs was as "child motivator" on an early episode of future child based smash hit Hi-5. It was a thankless task, one that had sent many a junior employee to an early dole queue. Anything to do with live children's entertainment had a long history of failure, and my own experiences of seeing a friend crash and burn on an episode of Going Live made me sympathise with the kids, crammed into a TV studio. I fixed my most professional smile, handed out the lollies, and taught the kids as best I could when to whoop, when to holler, when to hold em, and when to fold em.

The most memorable part of the day though was when Hi-5 bounded onto the stage to launch into the first song of their youthful career: Hide Your Eyes (and Count To Ten), an instant bubblegum pop classic that had it emanated in the 60s would have been a "radio smash", as it bounced with joy, and at its heart, something far darker. "Hide Your Eyes and count to ten, ready or not I'm going to find you again" whirred through my head. Oh sure, I thought, kids song, but at its core, it sounded like a song of obsession. Given my own personal travails of the ay, it became something different to me. So much for bubblegum, kids music, something to dismiss. This was MY song now, and as silly as it sounds, it still means something over and above the simple repetition of childhood games.

Of course, my best friend was married to a "kids song", throwaway, allegedly bubblegum. Josie and the Pussycats, in the early 1970s, recorded a song called (La La La) If I Had You, which contained the line "kings would give up thrones to be in love with just one girl like me, and that's the way I'd feel if I had you". Don't let people tell you because a song is sung by session singers and written in a production line, it means nothing (after all, the greatest line in music history, runs: "I must confess, that my loneliness, is killing me now, don't you know I still believe..." - a line which of course is dark and haunted, but with the emphatic hope of forlorn love stamped on the end – was written by a "hit factory").

All through the history of recorded music, as the real and the "plastic" have battled, it's been easy to dismiss songs such as La La La, Hide Your Eyes, or Aqua's Cartoon Heroes (THE darkest song with the most coded meaning) as throwaway. However, writing these songs is horribly easy to get wrong. The songs from a quite different show, New McDonalds Farm, were awful, kids songs without zip or bounce, or anything to hang a hat on. Muck it up, and kids, as they say, they know the score. They can see through you. They can't see through the Little Trees, as my learned friend would tell you...


Now that Pop Idol has taken the fun out of not just, well, pop, but the joy of the great pop audition, it's important to note that in all likelihood, no members of "The Little Trees" knew each other at all until they met in the audition room. Whether they (the girls on the record sleeve) sang on the record is another contentious issue, given what Claire talked about above. It's only contentious when you let it be contentious though, if you sit around beard stroking, clutching Bob Dylan albums and moaning darkly about "real music" – the truth is, as Claire said, it doesn't matter what you think, or where this music came from, it's got meaning (and anyway, Bob Dylan once wrote a song called "Wiggle Wiggle" which you might want to check out the lyrics for should you dismiss this song as froth and bubble). After all, if Bewitched can be a central source of postmodern analysis for the feminist movement, can't a song about a yellow fish be much deeper than you might think?

The classic theme in the song is of course the resonated warning to be careful what you wish for. The 1960s TV show Tooter Turtle was about a turtle who wished to be anything BUT a turtle, only to find himself in a hopeless position he couldn't get out of once he changed (into say an astronaut) and have to be changed back into a turtle. The parable of the boy/girl/turtle who wanted to be something else lingers on to this day: was She-ra, however contemptible, right to be punished for being himself and wrong to be changed and made an example of? It's an ethical debate, and it stirs at the heart of the song.

The song of course isn't really about a fish, but the moment we first feel unhappy with ourselves, the first moment of genuine unease about our surroundings, or the first moment of childhood when you need someone to come and tell you it's all alright. More interestingly than that, it's about helplessness. It's about standing on the playground in Grade 1, or lying on the ground, staring up at the clouds, unable to comprehend the vast nature of the world you are in.

The best line of the song though, which might slip you by, runs "Stay ashore, don't give in to notions - if you don't wanna be like me!" – clearly a reference to the defining moment when as a youth you are first confronted with peer pressure. Sticking to being yourself is the hardest thing anyone can do. It's nigh on impossible sometimes to do so. But "don't give into notions" is clearly a warning sign – a clarion call to be positive, to stay true, to not be easily influenced, and not waste time wanting to be something or someone else. If you do, the song wisely points out, you could end up lost and adrift, uncomfortable and frightened. It's a constant battle, and don't think that the "potion" referred to isn't a subtle warning to stay away from drugs and alcohol either...

And thus, you might think the Little Trees couldn't tell you as much as your "classic" songwriters but you'd be totally wrong. Kids, as they say, they know the score.

- Alyson


At 5:43 pm, Blogger Alyson with a Y said...

What parts in particular have left you baffled! We can explain in a handy fact sheet!

Oh, and you can tell this has been in the can for a while, given I mentioned "She-ra" from Big Brother! I'd forgotted all about him!


Post a Comment

<< Home