A short review of the Paul Kelly biography by Stuart Coupe.
Music journalist Stuart Coupe sets himself a tall order here: to write a biography of a much-loved Australian who has already written an award-winning memoir, the 500 page How to Make Gravy (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton 2010).
Kelly described his own book as a ‘mongrel memoir’. Coupe’s book is a more straightforward muso bio: a chronology of band line-ups, recordings, tours, drugs, personal upheavals, growing popularity, and ascension to, well, it’s an over-used phrase, iconic status. Coupe brings these standard rock’n’roll signposts to life with plenty of anecdotes and quotes from Kelly’s wide circle of musicians, acquaintances, friends, and managers. And from Kelly himself, who chips in from time to time.
The first third of the biography is probably the most arresting, detailing the hard times of trying to break through, moving from Adelaide to Melbourne to Sydney, from one band line-up to another, one recording studio to another. Coupe sheds light on Kelly’s first two albums, Talk and Manila, which Kelly has effectively removed from public view. Partly, perhaps, because he no longer likes the music. Partly, perhaps, because he does not wish to be reminded of several years of drug use.
As a former manager of Paul Kelly, Coupe is well-placed to deliver on the promise of the book’s subtitle, The Man, The Music and The Life in Between. We learn that Kelly is a determined, generous soul. Quiet, pensive. But like all of us, not perfect. The biography is informative without necessarily being insightful, a companion piece, in a way, to Kelly’s memoir.
Paul Kelly, The Man, The Music and The Life in Between is published by Hachette Australia.