Cover Versions

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Adelaide street art — this is a fairly recent piece, and I love the incorporation of the windows in to the reimagining of this wall space.

So those of you who follow my side hustle at Blue Jai Creative will know that my word of the month for March is REIMAGINE.

I’ve selected the word reimagine quite deliberately — as writers are prone to doing — particularly after last month’s focus on connection, when I delved into the rich pickings that can be gleaned from connecting with people, with your inner voice, and with what inspires you, and then from connecting the dots between all those things to create something whole and meaningful. Hopefully, having spent some time making such connections, you have a stronger sense of what you want to achieve in your work or life.

The first thing that prompted me to select reimagine as the word of the month was a recent trip I took to Adelaide, South Australia. I’d never been there before, but was keen to check out the food and wine and, being a lover of street art, wanted to see some of the amazing work that has popped up all over the inner city in recent years — and I was not disappointed. Seeing the way that hidden nooks and crannies all around Adelaide had been transformed from grotty out of the way spots to beautiful, unexpected spaces was truly inspiring.

So this month, the word reimagine is designed to kickstart an examination of those things in your work or life that need reviewing. We all have pieces that don’t quite fit — procedures that don’t flow quite as smoothly as we’d like them to, systems that have pinch points or regular breakdowns, products that could do with a tweak, ideas that seem to resist attempts to realise them, all manner of things we know could be improved. Because let’s face it: we’re all human, which means none of us is perfect.

Reim hawking

Without wondering and reimagining, would Stephen Hawking’s work would have been impossible.

But the fact that we are human also means that we possess the greatest and most mind-blowing of gifts: we have the power to imagine and to reimagine — over and over again. For as long as we are capable of thinking, we can keep re-envisaging and reinvestigating.  The possibilities and permuations are limitless, endless, for as long as we are consciously able to imagine and reimagine them.

And that brings me to the second thing — or, more accurately, person — who inspired the reimagine theme for March: the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose passing earlier this month reminded the world not only of his amazing work, but also of some of his more poignant words of advice to his fellow humans: that we need to retain our curiosity and keep wondering — or reimagining — our worlds, and that we don’t ever stop doing so.  In his own words, it matters that you don’t just give up.

I think it’s important, at this point, to draw a distinction between reimagining and reinventing, because I think part of what makes human beings tend to give up on things is that we become caught up in thinking we have to create something completely and entirely new in order to be successful — and it simply isn’t true. As far as I’m concerned, the old adage about not needing to reinvent the wheel is right on the money: the wheel is just fine, thank you, but hats off to the person who can imagine a way to make it faster, stronger, or perhaps even prettier.

So this month, I encourage you to reimagine the things in your work or life that you think could do with some renewal. What would it look like, if you did something differently? How would that feel? Does it really matter that something is not brand new, or is it more important that you’re willing to try doing something in a new way? Sure – it might be a bit scary, but what if it actually worked?

reim cilly

Some of the many reimaginings of Cillian Murphy…

Which brings me to my third and final inspriation for my March reimagine theme, which was a fantastic bunch of cover versions actor Cillian Murphy played during a recent broadcast on BBC Radio 6. I have a sneaking suspicion that, like me, Cillian Murphy thinks music is about as necessary to human life as oxygen, and as well as being one of my favourite actors (a job which, quite obviously, requires you to reimagine yourself all the time) his recent forays into broadcasting have cemented him in my mind as being one of the most awesome human beings on the planet. (It’s OK…relax, I’ve stopped fangirling now).

Returning to cover versions, though — which are, of course, one artist’s reimaginings of another artist’s work. Some cover versions are pretty much straightforward reproductions of the original song…and to my mind such works are more like tributes than anything else. Other times, however, cover versions take original songs to a whole other level.  They make you aware of a fresh layer of meaning in the original lyrics, or evoke an entirely different mood from the melody, or strip a song back to its essential elements and make you fall in love with it all over again, in a new and exciting way. I’d cite Neil Finn’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as being one such a track, and Nirvana’s version of David Bowie’s “Man Who Stole the World”, or even Northeast Party House’s recent rendition of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” as others.

But there was one particular song Cillian Murphy played during his hour of favourite cover versions that he ventured to say was even better than the original — and even though it’s a big call, I’m inclined to agree with him. So I’m going to leave you with it, as a final piece of inspiration to look, and look hard, at what needs reimagining in your life and work.

Here is Stevie Wonder, playing a cover version of The Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” — at the White House, in front of President Obama and his family, who are sitting right next to Paul McCartney…who wrote and performed the original song. Boom.

If you think you’re scared of reimagining something new, let wheelchair-bound scientist and a blind man show you the way. You might just work it out, too.

 

The Wellspring

My First Principles: words, music, food.

Know your First Principles…

This month marks the first anniversary of the day I sat down, summoned my courage and started blogging. From the outset, I have said that this is where I come to make sense of it all, and after twelve months of showing up on the page I firmly believe that doing so has benefited me, and probably my family, too.

I believe it’s important to thank all the people who have joined me since I set sail on this voyage, and to make special mention of the mums who sought me in the school playground to chat about everything from Holiday Bonus Points to the meaning of saudade, or to jokingly re-introduce themselves after I blogged about The Name Game. I want to thank the friends who provided early encouragement (and who, to my eternal gratitude and partial disbelief, continue to do so), as well as the hundreds of complete strangers who stumbled across my little site and stayed to read a post or two. Discovering that my words have been read by people all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, Turkey to Taiwan, as well as here in Australia has been an astonishing and humbling experience.

Find your wellspring...

Find your wellspring…

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.  Writing this blog has enabled me to dive into that wellspring and to clarify what is important to me, what I am passionate about, and also what I am challenged by. It has provided me with a platform to speak my truth, whether I was struggling to make sense of the Sydney Siege, or speaking out against the death penalty, or fangirling over my two favourite Toms (Wlaschiha and Hiddleston), or reveling in the beauty of street art.  And writing about all these things has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never have before.

I believe that I am truer to my First Principles – my Holy Trinity of words, music and food – when I visit my wellspring regularly.   When I align myself to these three things, my most important sources of nourishment, I live a better and far more authentic life. I may not always progress smoothly; life simply isn’t like that. But honouring the things that make me who I am and finding the time and space to share them with others certainly makes it easier to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that characterise every person’s existence.  Blogging reminds me that we are all riding this rollercoaster together, and that it can be terrifying and thrilling and every other kind of emotion I can name (and probably a few I don’t know yet know precisely the right word for) along the way.  It also prompts me to remember that the same is true for each of us, the world over.

Connect...

Connect to your own greatness…

I believe I am blessed in my life to be supported by my family, the crazy trio you may laughed with – or perhaps just laughed at – and cried with over the past year.  You’ve shared our adventures and misadventures, and witnessed some of the tests and trials my husband and I have encountered while parenting two strong-willed and independently-minded girls. The Bloke, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop all inspire me, challenge me, delight me, frustrate me, and fill me with more joy than I ever thought possible. They also willingly put up with a wife and mother who is happiest when tapping away at the keyboard, and who considers herself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so on a personal and a professional basis – even if it means my life is regulated by the alarms I set to remind me to pick the kids up from school.

I believe, looking back, that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that I began blogging in spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Spring is a great time to start new things, and to watch them grow. One of the themes I have returned to again and again over the past twelve months has been seasonal change, as I’ve connected with the world as it transforms itself around me and noticed details I may not have otherwise. In the process, I have become far more aware of how I respond to the seasons and the unique ways they express themselves in this Great Southern Land. (As a side note, I would also argue that spring is probably a much better time to set resolutions than those first remorse-filled weeks of January when we lament our Christmas and New Year’s excesses and wish for the umpteenth year in a row that the festive season and the bikini season did not coincide.)

But having said that, I also believe that it doesn’t matter when you start something new: the important thing is to begin. To have a go. Or to have another go. Or even to resume doing something you love, because you know it serves you and brings you closer to who you truly are. For me, it’s writing, reading, listening to and playing music, cooking well and eating better.  It’s also exercising: running, weight training, and practicing yoga.

...and Begin.

…and Begin.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a yoga workshop welcoming the coming of spring.  It was a chance to find stillness within, to connect with my breath, to meditate on new beginnings and to draw strength and inspiration from the wellspring within.  Emerging into the twilight two hours later, I was greeted by the sight of the moon, luminous and full, lighting up the evening sky.  Seeing that shining orb reminded me that I, too, have come full circle, and I remembered what I wrote in my very first blog post: that what I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine. The most important thing was that I began.

So rise up.  Follow your breath.  Find the wellspring within.  Connect.  And begin.

The Writing on the Wall

Graffiti Sirens

“Sirens” by Hush

Unsanctioned.

Unauthorised.

Unendorsed.

Why do all these words sound less offensive than illegal?

See here’s the thing: I love street art.

I’m not referring to the mindless repetition of a single tag across a public space — that’s about as impressive as a dog pissing to mark its territory.

I mean consciously created visual artworks.

On walls.

Walls that belong to other people.

Graffiti, from written words to wall paintings, has been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians did it, so did the Greeks. Any visitor to Pompeii would know that the Romans were bandits for it. From Ephesus in Turkey, to Tikal in Guatemala, to Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, people across antiquity have left their marks on walls, painted for posterity, or more likely scratched — which is, of course, the meaning of the Italian word graffiato, from which graffiti got its name.

Blue Bird by the elusive Banksy

“Girl with Bluebird” by the elusive Banksy

In modern times — particularly since the advent of the aerosol can — graffiti has been taken to a whole new level, raising it from vandalism to art. Part of street art’s appeal is that it is subversive: its very presence is usually illicit but, by virtue of its accessibility, it is able to elicit a response from the broader population. Street art is often political. Provocative. Daring. It’s bold and it’s brave and, despite its illegality, it can also be downright beautiful.

Street art is also intriguing because some of its greatest practitioners are shrouded in secrecy. From 1932 to 1967, Sydneysiders would awake to see the work of Arthur Stace wherever he chalked the word “Eternity” in elegant, Copperplate script on pavements throughout the city. During the course of his life Stace is estimated to have produced the word around 500,000 times, writing his way into popular culture as he did. His identity was eventually made public in 1956, but his work was immortalised when the word Eternity was illuminated on the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the 2000 New Year’s Eve celebrations.  The image was used again during the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics later the same year.

Blek le Rat's "Ballerina"

Blek le Rat’s “Ballerina”

More recently, Blek le Rat — one of the originators of stencil graffiti — produced his work anonymously in Paris for a decade before he was identified (and arrested) by French police in 1991 as he stencilled a replica of Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child on a wall. His style is distinctively Parisian, frequently depicting dancers and musicians, as well as style icons like Diana, Princess of Wales. Since 2006 Blek le Rat has held exhibitions of his work in galleries around the world, but has expressed his preference for working in the streets where it can be seen by a much wider audience than in a gallery.

The identity of influential Britsh street artist Banksy remains a closely guarded secret, despite numerous claims by various newspapers that they have discovered who he is. Banksy’s stencil art is often satirical, politically charged, and wickedly funny. In the words of Shepard Fairey, “Banksy paints over the line between aesthetics and language, then stealthily repaints it in the unlikeliest of places. His works, whether he stencils them on the streets, sells them in exhibitions or hangs them in museums on the sly, are filled with wit and metaphors that transcend language barriers.” Like Blek le Rat, however, Banksy also prefers to use the street as his canvas, stating that “when you go to an art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires”.

My dining room wall.

A metal print of Birgit Kinder’s “Test the Rest” on my dining room wall…complete with extra graffiti. The original has been repainted multiple times since it was first produced in 1990.

One of my favourite pieces of street art now hangs on our dining room wall — a metal print of a Trabant 601 breaking through the Berlin Wall from the famous East Side Gallery, a 1.3km-long section of the wall on Mühlenstraße in Freidrichshain-Kreuzberg that has been described as a memorial to freedom. Another metal print hangs in our hall, a montage of graffiti from various sections of the Berlin Wall before it came down on 9 November 1989.

And that’s where I think the lines of street art begin to blur: when it begins appearing on walls in suburban houses, or when its production has been given public approval.

Sanctioned.

Authorised.

Endorsed.

Damn graffiti kids...

Damn those graffiti kids…

I remain torn between wanting to take my kids to see the gigantic Kosmonaut mural Victor Ash painted in Kreuzberg in 2007, which has — unsurprisingly — become a Berlin landmark, and wishing they could simply explore the city and discover the incredible urban art that has been created without approval.

Because that’s the thing about street art. You can hang it on your wall, you can stick it on a Pinterest board, but the best kind will always be the piece of graffiti you stumble across on the street — the one that the artist has put there to communicate directly with you and whoever else sees it.

On walls that belong to other people.

Out in the open.

Free.