Student’s Lesson

Exploring the Influence of Other Texts

Implicit intertextuality: Blues for Skip

Refer to film (23:32–25:10)

In this song, Paul Kelly talks about the difficulty of not being able to write a song over a long period and the subsequent use of other performers to assist in the act of creating music.

Watch and listen to ‘Blues for Skip’ and note the connections between this song and singing of Skip James. Observe and discuss how Paul Kelly has modelled aspects of his song on both the lyric structure and music of Skip James.

In ‘Blues for Skip’, he uses the traditional Blues structure, whereby the opening stanza is repeated and then one additional stanza completes the verse. The story is often one of sadness or remorse, which is typically why this type of song is referred to as ‘The Blues’

Babe, there’s no water in the well
Babe, there’s no water in the well
I gotta funny feeling, we’re in for quite a spell

How do you think that the lyric reflects Paul’s state of mind at the time of writing this song?

Using this structure write your own lyric about something, perhaps even 2–3 stanzas. Try to sing this in class using a simple accompaniment.

Explicit intertextuality

Obvious references to other texts are also called allusions. When the reference is to the Bible it is called a Biblical allusion; references to Greek and Roman texts are called Classical allusions; references to a particular historical period are historical allusions; references to TV shows or other popular texts are called popular culture allusions.

In the song ‘Adelaide’ Kelly alludes to the nursery rhymes, Mary Mary, Quite Contrary and Humpty Dumpty. The reference to “all in a row’’ reminds us of childhood and childhood memories and suggest the orderliness of childhood innocence. Moving to Humpty Dumpty introduces the disintegration of that happy world as Humpty Dumpty falls and cannot be put together again. When we hear this rhyme we bring our knowledge of the poem and we know that this indicates the end for his father who is sick and also indicates the end of Kelly’s childhood innocence.

Further reading about the influence of other texts on Paul Kelly’s compositions can be found in the following essays from the book PAUL KELLY — THE ESSAYS published by Shark Island Productions on iTunes: Sophie Cunningham, Words Matter; Nicholas Tonti Filippini, Paul Kelly and God; Toby Creswell, Jukebox Baby.

Student activity: understanding intertextuality

In the song ‘Dumb Things’ Kelly writes about life and he says: “I melted wax to fix my wings”. This is a classical allusion to the myth about Icarus and Daedalus. Look up the myth to understand what this reference means and consider how it works in the context of the song.

I melted wax to fix my wings
I’ve done all the dumb things

Meet Me in the Middle of the Air

refer to film (55:50–57:28)

Paul Kelly has composed this song, with reference to Psalm 23 from the Bible.

I am your true shepherd
I will lead you there
Beside still waters
Come and meet me in the middle of the air
I will meet you in the middle of the air

I will lay you down
In pastures green and fair
Every soul shall be restored
I will meet them in the middle of the air
Come and meet me in the middle of the air

Through the lonesome valley
My rod and staff you’ll bear
Fear not death’s dark shadow
Come and meet me in the middle of the air
I will meet you in the middle of the air

With oil I shall anoint you
A table shall I prepare
Your cup will runneth over
Come and meet me in the middle of the air
I will meet you in the middle of the air

In my house you’ll dwell forever
You shall not want for care
Surely goodness and mercy will follow you
Come and meet me in the middle of the air
I will meet you in the middle of the air

Psalm 23

Psalms are songs of praise and were originally sung. King David, the purported author, was a poet and musician as well as a warrior and king.

1: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3: He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

King James Version

  1. Highlight the metaphors in Paul Kelly’s song that are taken directly from the King James’ version of Psalm 23.
  2. What are the differences in the wording of the two texts?
  3. Who is speaking in each text? How does this affect the meaning?
  4. What is the hymn inviting you to feel? What is the song inviting you to feel?
  5. Both texts are strongly metaphorical. Which metaphor is your favourite in each text? Explain your choice.
  6. What do you think is intended by meeting “in the middle of the air”?
  7. How does intertextuality contribute to the effects of this contemporary song?
  8. What is the effect of the chorus and its frequent repetition?

Come and meet me in the middle of the air

I will meet you in the middle of the air

Listen to the song ‘Meet Me in the Middle of the Air’ and examine the structure of the music used to support the lyrics and intent of the song.

As a class, have a go at listening to, then singing this song with others. Experiment with different interpretations to understand how the personal delivery can influence the intent of the song.

In representing the emotion and meaning of text and the story that often hides in the lyric of the song, different performers elicit different emotions as they sing.

  • Listen to the TWO contrasting representations of this song and create your own interpretation of the intent and meaning behind each performance.
  • As you watch each performance, list any words that come to mind, trying to find similarities and differences in the quality of vocal delivery. (You can open the interactive PDF below to type into a table like this one):

Paul Kelly

Megan Washington

  • Describe why the melody is so haunting yet memorable? Describe the way that pitch has been used to create such an effective song.
  • Megan Washington sings this live and unaccompanied at the link below. Go to this YouTube link and watch the performance. Why does the song work so well unaccompanied?

Melody — In music, melody refers to the way that the tune is delivered and the range of different pitched (high or low notes) that the instrument uses.

Tone — refers to the quality of the sound and is often dependent upon the instrumental type and the control of the performance.

  • As you listen to Megan Washington’s performance what are some of the additional things that she does as she sings to create and develop the emotion attached to the text?

Download the interactive table PDF

Class discussion: How original is “originality”?

  • Is creativity only about doing something no one else has done or is it about taking a spark from somewhere else and changing it in an original way?
  • On the other hand does borrowing lines, words or ideas mean that you breach copyright?

The exchange in the film about thieving may be delivered as a joke and it may be that we expect creative people to borrow but the reality is that plagiarism breaches copyright law.

In 2011 the band Men at Work was accused of breaching copyright in their song Down Under[1]which partly used the tune of Kookaburra sits in an Old Gum Tree. Was this a fair decision[2]? Or was the song so well known that it had gone “public”?

[1] Official video:

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, February 4, 2010, Men at Work’s Down Under ripped off Kookaburra:court

Student activity: On the shoulders of giants

In the documentary there are many associations established between Paul Kelly and iconic literary authors and musicians. The documentary establishes a strong link between key male figures drawn from popular culture and canonical literary contexts.

  • In groups, take a section of the documentary and track through it to find references to canonical musicians and authors, noting who they are, what they have created and what discernible influence they have had on Paul Kelly’s work. You may find it helpful to organise your notes in a table such as the one below.

Musician/ author


Influence on Paul Kelly’s work.

  • Why do you think the documentary places the work of Paul Kelly within the textual network that makes up a cultural tradition?
  • How do these references add to the cultural value of Paul Kelly’s work?

Student activity: think, pair, share… and think again.

  1. Respond to the comment by Paul Kelly from the documentary where Kelly states:
    Yeah well I yeah we all steal a lot. Well yeah if you borrow something it’s quite obvious that you’ve borrowed it but if you steal something, a good thief will, will hide it, or you know absorb it somehow. (16:40)
    What does this tell you about his process of composition? To what extent does it shed light on your own? You may want to draw connections between the challenges you face when creating your own texts, especially the desire to create original texts of your own.
  2. Write a brief reflection on how you approach “creative” writing. What helps you get ideas and how do you try to develop them?