Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Paul Kelly, Don’t Start Me Talking (2004)

Paul Kelly’s Don’t Start Me Talking: Lyrics 1984−2004 (2004) presents the lyrics to his songs as a book of poetry. 

Paul Kelly came of age in the early to mid-1970s, which was a time when the Australian music scene was dominated by the ideology of the New Left and hippy counter-culture and was promoting the views and attitudes that would later be understood as political correctness.  Paul Kelly appears to have absorbed these influences.  However, with emergence of the New Wave movement in pop and rock music in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kelly took on some of those influences as well.  He became a musician who was playing in bands and recording at a time when the Australian music scene in the 1980s was becoming the next most significant force in pop and rock music after Britain and the United States.  Kelly’s music, which straddled both the ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ music scenes of those times, contributed to that development. 

Paul Kelly gave his songs a distinctive Australian flavour by identifying Australian locations like ‘St Kilda’ or the ‘MCG’ in Melbourne, and ‘Kings Cross’ or ‘Randwick’ in Sydney.  He also used cultural references like ‘VB’, which refers to Victoria Bitter, a locally brewed and popular beer.  In this respect, Kelly reflects the artistic nationalism of many creative people of that time, which put an emphasis on telling stories that are set locally in Australia that deal with Australian people and their culture.  This served to satisfy Australian audiences seeking representations of their own places and people, as well as to help establish Australia as a culturally significant place in the wider world, just as British and American recording artists had done for their respective countries for generations. 

In this respect, Kelly used his songs to give expression to his love of spectator sports, which is an attitude that was more ‘mainstream’ than ‘alternative’.  However, Kelly showed that he was in tune with the attitudes of the counter-culture and the alternative music scene when he expressed a fascination with the use of illicit drugs and alcohol, casual sex and promiscuity, and the experience of living precariously from hand-to-mouth rather than having a regular job.  Here, Kelly displays influences from the beatnik writers of New York and San Francisco who influenced the hippies of the 1960s and who urged people, especially young people, to drop out of the ‘rat race’ and to pursue pleasure.  Kelly was also influenced by the singer-songwriter Lou Reed who was involved with a decadent underground music and art scene in New York in the 1960s, which had profound influences on the alternative music scene of the 1980s.  Lou Reed sang about decadent street life and people who lived on the fringes of society, which influenced Kelly’s songs about urban decadence. 

As Kelly’s success grew, he wrote about the experience of fame, the nature of the recording industry, and he paid his respects to the recording artists who had influenced him.   For example, he spoke of the desire of many people to be associated with famous entertainers, and he attacked the double-standards and greed of music industry executives. He also paid respect to Bob Dylan and the Beatles, whose songs, notably their political protest songs, had a profound influence on the hippy counter-culture and on popular culture in general. 

Kelly embraced the trend towards political protest songs that had politicised the music industry during the 1960s and associated it indelibly with the politically correct Left.  Kelly’s songs cover the gamut of beliefs associated with political correctness, but he has shown a particular interest in protest songs that promoted Aboriginal causes, like land rights.     

However, despite Kelly’s interest in politics, the prevalent theme in his song writing involves his exploration of the problems and paradoxes associated with romantic love.  This puts Kelly in tune with most of the pop and rock music of his times.  Kelly’s songs often explore the feelings of broken-hearted men, yet he also shows sympathy for women who suffer at the hands of the more cavalier men who are inconsiderate of the feelings of women.  In Kelly’s love songs, men are often depicted as victims or predators, and woman are often depicted as broken-hearted or as heartbreakers.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Don’t Start Me Talking meaning, Don’t Start Me Talking themes, Don’t Start Me Talking analysis, Don’t Start Me Talking notes