Courtney Barnett

Pitchfork Top Fifty Albums 2015: Number Nine


I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny

Is there a more awkward moment between friends than when one friend shows another their writing/poems/paintings/songs/macrame cats and the friend expected to comment on these creations realises that they’re shit?  This is a common problem because most people aren’t good at writing/poems/paintings (etc).  By “not good at” I mean: compared to people you mentally compare them with like Jane Austen/Stevie Smith/Frida Kahlo (etc).  Which is a pretty ridiculous comparison but I think it’s the comparison you naturally make because, well, what else would you compare it with?  So, that’s unfair, but also it’s pretty true about most people’s creative output not being that amazing.

I took Art at school right from Year 9 to Year 13.  I was mediocre on a good day.  My year 12 output was bad technically and made worse by pretentiousness (which is how I often fuck things up creatively).  At the time I was listening to a lot of Guns ‘n’ Roses and I painted a triptych showing Christ and Slash (I’m not making this shit up).  My painting teacher asked me if I had considered photography.

Then there’s the opposite problem.  You actually love the work of your friend, but they think you’re just being nice because you’re their friend.  Admittedly this is less of a problem because you can look forward to seeing their next poem, song or painting, but it is still a little bit irritating, like your honesty, or – much worse – taste, is being questioned (the nerve).

Courtney Barnett reminds of an Australian friend of mine I met in Japan.  He was in the laconic, Australian mode.  Drank too much and told me one day, improbably, that he was a poet.  Cue all the emotions above: that tensed moment when you both want to and don’t want to see their work, when you set your face into a mask of neutrality, put on your togs and cannonball into the pool of their work hoping for warm waters, but prepared for an ice bath.

It turned out my Australian friend was very good.  In fact, one of his poems is now one of my favourite poems.  I wrote a song using the poem as the lyrics (don’t worry, I won’t play it for you).  It was poem about his aunt, and it was suburban, and lonely, and terribly moving and a little bit funny.

Which is a 400 word introduction to me saying: “I wonder if Courtney Barnett’s mates liked her songs when they first heard them years ago in her bedroom without a band, and years of getting better at it?”  That’s the other thing of course, just because your mate writes shit songs now doesn’t mean that they always will.

Because I am a weirdo I have not looked up anything about Courtney Barnett on the internet, but still know that she is young (in her twenties), and from Melbourne.  That’s enough to know.  Everything you need to know is on the album which is brilliant.


Every single song has the most wonderful lyrics.  I am not going to quote any because that would spoil your chance to hear them for the first time.  I would say that when you hear the album for the first time it’s much better than it seems at first.  I first thought something like: “oh, this is funny, and deadpan, and the songs sound quite similar”.  Now though I find it a lot sadder, and the songs more varied, and the band more present and mournful.

This album has disguised depression very well.  Let’s not say clinical depression, let’s say something like: I am intelligent and aware of the shitiness of the world and my own flaws, but also enjoy many things about life although I cope ironically except that I love you hard out.  Something like that.

Also, fucking social media.  I blame it for over-informing, under-informing, connecting and disconnecting us simultaneously.  Which has nothing to do with the album but feels like it is one explanation for this kind of feeling of hyper-awareness and inertia.  Aware and inert.  That’s about me at the moment, although I’m trying to cut down the awareness part.  Of course even with your head in the sand you can’t escape your thoughts (“I wonder how my ass looks with my head in sand like this?”).

I wonder where my Australian friend is?  I’ve not seen him for 12 years now.  He was in China at one point in those 12 years.  His name was Adam King which, being a poet, he noticed sounded like aching.  Also, he was from Newcastle.  So that worked too.

Look after yourself, mate.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

2 thoughts on “Courtney Barnett”

  1. True. This could be a time to compare his singing ability to his political abilities, but I will rise above.

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