The Big Issue : Edition 481
THE BIG ISSUE 3 – 16 APRIL 2015 21 In early 2014 an idea begins to crystallise: could some stories work as performance pieces? Could you have the writer on stage reading the story, accompanied by a musician? Could you weave the song, or parts of it, through the paragraphs of the story? Could you tell the story in stereo? I love music, but I cannot play an instrument. I hardly know the difference between a key change and a chord change. So I talk to some musicians. I talk to some Stereo Stories writers. We come up with eight stories that might work on stage. Writers spend much of their lives alone in silence, on an island of sorts. They write alone in silence. Their stories are read in silence. And now here I was trying to put words and music on stage. In front of people. Our debut performance is at the Williamstown Literary Festival in Melbourne’s west, to an audience of about 50. I stand on the stage with a young musician beside me, an acoustic guitar over his shoulder. I begin: Outside Newport library, Victoria. July 2012. Midday. A young man is standing on a little platform, a pallet with ‘Busker’s Stage’ painted on the side. He has an acoustic guitar over his shoulder and a harmonica around his neck. It could be 1965. The midday sun is in his eyes, so he closes his eyelids or gazes into the footpath, where Saturday morning shoppers are coming and going. But not stopping... Then I pause, and Jack Gramski, the young busker I’d heard outside the Newport library two years earlier, sings a verse of ‘Growin’ Up’. He stops and I continue the story. When I finish the story he resumes, and finishes, the song. It works, seemingly. The audience listens. And applauds. A woman, Lucia Nardo, reads about the World War II song ‘Lili Marlene’, while her 86-year- old father, Salvatore Romita, plays the piano accordion. Again the audience listens. Some people cry. A few weeks later we play just up the road at the Newport Folk Festival. Then, a few months later, we put on our own gig at a bowls club: a dozen stories, plus some bonus tracks so that the musicians – guitarists, singers, a percussionist, a piano-accordion player – can spread their wings. In early 2015 the blog clocks up its 100th story (about a road trip and ‘Hound Dog’ by Cold Chisel). The blog has few readers but Stereo Stories Live is gaining momentum. I am no longer a writer alone on an island. It seems I am a founding member of The Stereo Stories Band, a group of writers and musicians telling stories about songs. Stories of love, pathos and humour, with portions of pop, rock, soul and jazz. » Vin Maskell is a regular contributor to The Big Issue. His last article was ‘Taking Flight’ (Ed#474). Stereo Stories Live is in Victoria at the Williamstown Library on 19 April, and the Newstead Short Story Tattoo on 2 May, with more shows to come. Visit stereostories.com for details. ‘SHE BOP’ BY CYNDI LAUPER A STEREO STORY BY FIONA PRICE TRAFFIC LIGHTS, GLEN Waverley, 1984. No one does scorn like a teenage girl. At 14, Swagata deployed hers regularly, with rolling eyes and tossed black plait. Two years younger and far more timid, I watched her like a rabbit in a cattery. When her father’s red Nissan turned up to drive us home from school, she sat beside him surfing radio stations and I sat behind and lay low. One winter afternoon, at a red light in Glen Waverley, Cyndi Lauper’s ‘She Bop’ came on. Swagata’s father started listening to the lyrics and his brow furrowed deeper and deeper. “What is this... bop?” he asked, looking at his daughter to clarify. With a withering sigh at his middle-aged ignorance, Swagata went in, guns blazing. “Bop, Dad,” she said in scathing tones. “B-O -P. Bop. It’s a kind of dance.” His eyebrows rose and his eyes went shifty, but he just said “Ah yes,” and drove on. Many years later, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought Lauper’s greatest hits collection. She’d titled it Twelve Deadly Cyns and included a foldout with lyrics. As I skimmed this idly, my eye fell on ‘She Bop’ and stopped at the line They say I’d better stop or I’ll go blind. Hang on. I scanned the rest of the song again. Wanna go south and get me some more... Can’t stop messing with the danger zone... Ain’t no law against it yet... I thought back to Swagata’s dad in the car, that afternoon in 1984. For all her scorn, 14-year-old Swagata had revealed herself to be far more naive than her father. She and I had missed what was obvious to him. A chuckle bubbled up as I remembered how he’d nodded and avoided her eye. Ignorant of youth slang and music he might have been, but in other things Dad really had known best. » Fiona Price never recovered from her love of 1980s pop. Her debut novel, Let Down Your Hair, is a retelling of Rapunzel in the era of selfies and smartphones.