News Stories – On Music… Melbourne Writers Festival 2010

Written as an assignment for reporting arts and culture.

As part of the 25th Melbourne Writers Festival, Robert Forster, August Kleinzahler and Craig Mathieson congregated at ACMI Cinema on Sunday September 5, 2010 to talk music.

Singer and writer Sian Prior interviewed the men about their different approaches to music writing, from poetry, to songwriting, to literature. The handful of audience members also asked the panel questions of their own.

The session was introduced via an onscreen presentation, of which the Empty Chair Foundation was introduced. Each MWF event had an empty chair on the stage to represent respect for journalists in jail for speaking their mind in order to carry out their job.

However, the chair didn’t stay empty for long…

The panel told the audience the best approach towards music writing is to read a lot of music journalism, be a good critic and analyst, and have a sense of directness, enthusiasm and passion.

But Kleinzahler gave the best advice.

“What is it exactly about that artist, or piece of work that grabs you?” he said.

So, who are these men? And why were they the chosen ones to be interviewed?

Forster is the founding member of Australian Indie rock band The Go-Betweens, music critic for independent magazine, The Monthly, and author of The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll. Forster’s previous writing experience, besides songwriting, encompass a hair product review for fanzine Debris, and an article on a Bob Dylan box set for German magazine, Spex.

Mathieson has been a music writer since the age of 17 for various Australian publications, and author of many books based on the Australian music industry. As a teen, Mathieson read London papers two months after their release, which he said he liked because he was able to imagine what the music would sound like. It’s hard to imagine in the 21st century what that felt like, since there is so much music readily available on the Internet.

Kleinzahler is a San Franciscan poet and author.

The most interesting part of the event was Kleinzahler’s confession that when approached by author Judith Moore to write for her, he had no music writing experience whatsoever. Rather, his poems incorporate the influence of music. He read an excerpt of one of his poems about the use of Frank Sinatra’s music in public and private spaces.

”I took the job because I was unemployed,” he said.

Forster and Mathieson also read excerpts from their books respectively.

To conclude the event Forster relocated himself and his guitar to the ‘empty chair’ to perform a poetic acoustic new track titled ‘I Love Myself And I Always Have. The idea behind this track came from when Forster was testing out a new email address by sending himself a message. The family computer was broken, and his wife came across the self-obsessed email.

“You really love yourself, don’t you?” she asked him. With the lyrics ‘I hold myself in high regard / loving yourself can’t be that hard,’ this statement is evidently true. Prior was bopping her head and tapping her feet and the audience chuckled as they exited the cinema.

In the words of Robert Forster, “It’s easier to write about something you don’t like, than something that you love or like.”

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