While I was in Melbourne recently I had the honour of appearing live on the Evening Show on ABC Radio 774, Statewide Victoria.
The interviewer on the show that evening was a fellow named Casey Bennetto. A gifted musician, writer and composer in his own right, Casey is the author/composer of the prize-winning Australian musical, Keating.
And we had a fantastic talk! That included an invocation of William Shakespeare, no less.
Casey asked me that almost inevitable singer/songwriter question: who is it that you have listened to that has inspired you to write songs?
I had done some thinking about this question since the last time I had answered it on air. Peeling back the layers, trying to get to that moment when the magic of words and rhythm first caught me in its winding strum.
And in the end I realized it was my encounter with Shakespeare! Classics Illustrated Comics. I read them when I was a kid. All the great books were there, in comic form. And the writers didn’t compromise the language. Somehow I acquired the Classics Illustrated volumes of Hamlet and Macbeth, and suddenly there it was - Shakespeare in pure form, verbatim! It knocked me out. How could I not become a writer after that?
I said all of this into the microphone and while I was in the middle of speaking I looked straight at Casey, just across the studio console from me. He was lit up. I could tell something had inspired him.
Almost instantaneously, he began quoting first lines from his favourite Shakespearean sonnets. He started to talk about the condensed nature, the compactness of the language of poetry and theatre, and of how the craft of songwriting calls the writer to something different. In his words, to find air, breathing space, for the words. Space for the listener to come into the conversation.
I don’t know if our talk set any red lights flashing on the ABC Melbourne complaint line (if they even have one) but who cares? In so far as I am concerned, Casey Bennetto and I were participating in one of those moments of truth - of mutual recognition.
One of those moments when we acknowledge a bright flame burning in the distance, from long ago. A flame with enough power in it still to touch a candle somewhere within a man or a woman of our times, and to set it alight.