I hadn’t always liked Paul Kelly. But I had heard the name. Some had said he was “the Australian Bob Dylan”. I remember thinking that sounded pretty good. I was working in a music store nearly 20 years ago. I was a student. And worked part-time – was studying part of the time too. Paul Kelly had just released his greatest hits and was touring New Zealand. I was keen to check him out. I had fallen under the spell of his words. He had a brand new cover out of Hot Chocolate’s Started With A Kiss – it was, to put it mildly, incongruous. But I liked it. (I liked plenty of his other songs too).
We arrived at the gig, me and two friends from the time. We had been drinking some wine. We were keen to have some more. We did. Paul Kelly had just started. He and his band were playing a couple of songs we didn’t know. And then he threw in It Started With A Kiss. It started with that. We moved to the front of the crowd, at first politely, and then, after a short stroll, not so much. We got to the front, had a boogie – right when no-one else was – and decided this gig was all about us.
I had recently turned 21. And shortly after I had shaved my head. I had previously had quite long hair. Some had thought I looked a bit like the lead singer from The Commitments. Now I looked like a Generation-X version of Telly Savalas.
Paul Kelly continued to play great songs. But I got it in my head – somewhere after the 132nd wine and just before the 187th – that, actually, it’d be pretty cool if I could play on stage with him. The rest of the band took a break. Paul was up there on his own. I was close to the stage. I figured I could get on stage and jam. I played the drums. Maybe I could play the drums with Paul? Not a bad idea? Actually, it was a horrific idea. The bigger problem was that this was something that wouldn’t go away. I was left-handed. I had the logic to work out that Paul’s drummer (like 96% of the world’s drummers) was right-handed. Then, I figured, you know what, I could still play right-handed; no issue. I started to climb up on the stage-apron. I was told to get down. I did. But then I didn’t. I mounted another climb. And so it went.
I then decided that I wanted to hear Paul Kelly playing the song From Little Things Big Things Grow. He started to play anything else. I got my knees up on the stage-apron, stuck my arm up high and grabbed at his guitar. I actually managed to mute the strings. He looked down at me. I looked up at him, I shook my head – the way Hulk Hogan used to do when he was mounting a comeback – no, Paul Kelly, no! You will play the song I want. Not the song you want!
I don’t remember a lot else about the gig. I vaguely recall going to a bar and ordering a bottle of red wine. And I fell off a bar-stool and therefore managed to consume the wine more quickly than perhaps would have otherwise been the case.
I awoke the next day – a Saturday – and I didn’t feel so good. I crawled to the end of my bed. I could see something on my desk. There it was – a ripped, mauled piece of paper. Paul Kelly’s setlist. I had a flashback to wrestling it from someone’s – anyone’s!!? – hands. It was just after 10am. I had work – in the music store. I pulled on the same clothes I had apparently worn the night before. And in the back-pocket of my jeans was Paul Kelly’s guitar pick – well, one of them, anyway.
I stumbled and swayed down the Dixon Street stairs. I ran in to the McDonald’s and got a quick burger. I sauntered across to the shop where I worked. I didn’t feel so good. But I did my best. The first person I served was buying Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits. “Hey, Paul Kelly”, I remember myself saying; “did you check out the gig last night?” Yeah, I was young. Yeah, I was hip.
“You were having a good time!” the woman announced.
“Oh…yeah?!…”, I almost managed.
“Made a fool of yourself”, she confirmed.
I wish the story ended there.
For weeks I imagined – and in some cases didn’t imagine, just witnessed – people pointing at me in the street. And then, a year on or more, my band was playing a gig – and we were doing things like Crowded House and U2. A woman asked me, during a break, if we knew any Paul Kelly. “I do”, I beamed. “But the band doesn’t.” She told me she had been to see Paul on more than one occasion. “Yeah, I’ve seen him too”, I proudly proclaimed.
She went on to explain – in grave detail – this one time when she had seen him and some idiot had tried to get on stage, this drip with no hair, this shaved-head fat wally. This goon. This noddy. Had I seen it? Could I believe it?