Melbn’s The Age newspaper produces a monthly glossy magazine sporting the quite unruly name of theage(melbourne)magazine. Despite the wanky name, it is really quite an excellent and well-balanced generalist magazine.
One of the articles in this month’s edition is about one of the patron saints of Melbn, Paul Kelly. I think every great city needs someone to tell its stories. For example, New York has Lou Reed or Paul Auster, Vancouver has Douglas Coupland, other cities have other people. These are people who write and sing about their cities as if they were actual characters in their songs and stories. These storytellers are special because they tell their stories in the style of the city they’re from.
Paul Kelly sings songs about Melbn. By and large, these songs are excellent. Truly magnificent pieces of storytelling, full of subtlety and grace; making a point without seeming preachy or trite. His simple words are inexorably linked to bits and pieces of Melbn: the MCG, the St Kilda foreshore, the Nylex clock. One day, when I leave here for some other place, I know I’ll be able to come back whenever I want to, simply by clicking on his name in iTunes. Right now, I know I can go to Vancouver whenever I want, just by reading some Coupland. He writes about Save-on-Foods, about that crap Chinese restaurant on the right side of Nancy Greene Way, on the way up to Grouse Mountain. He writes about Yaletown.
I’ve always said that Melbn is somewhat up itself, and has a massive inferiority complex. In some ways, this is justified, because it will never be as naturally pretty as Sydney or even Adelaide – but that shouldn’t matter. Melbn keeps comparing itself to other places and finding little things that it does better, smugly assured that because it’s done this, everyone will start liking it. That behaviour reminds me, in many ways, of an insecure person, always trying to make other people like them, because they crave that kind of validation. Melbn isn’t good enough for Melbn to like it. Melbn has to always prove itself in the eyes of its citizens, and the rest of the world (read “Sydney”).
So there’s this article about Paul Kelly. He doesn’t interview much, apparently, but he was full of gems for this one. Now here’s my point, the reason to write all these words. He’s managed to explain my feelings for this place. Here it is:
“The thing I don’t like about Melbourne is the way it worries about itself so much: all this constantly wondering whether it’s doing things world’s best practice … and this mania for having events here. There’s a boosterism here that I don’t like. Sydney people are not like that. They’re not always worrying about whether they’re better than Melbourne. They just like the place where they live and get on with it. So, yeah, I like Melbourne, It’s my home, but I love other cities too.”
Thank you, Paul. That’s it in a nutshell. I suppose it takes someone who’s lived elsewhere to see it.