Ruby slippers and purple sneakers

‘Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.’ ― Nick Hornby, High fidelity

There is something strangely autobiographical about compiling a playlist. When I interrogate this thought, the first answer that comes to mind is: it’s simply because music is so personal.

You can listen to the complete playlist on Spotify

We all have an individual rhythm, an internal soundtrack that may be freed when we hear a tune that hits us in just the right way. Music can generate strong emotions of love, sadness, connection and comfort, and there is a risk in sharing our favourite songs when their significance is buried within the memories of the DJ.

For me, a playlist is a love letter set to music. This love letter, sent out into the world, is dedicated to incredible Australian indie/folk artists. Many of these artists have set the musical score of my journey to date. As seen in the videos of their live performances, they are clearly masters of their instruments.

And, while we can’t go to live gigs at the moment, there are still lots of ways we can support the Australian music industry.

Artist: Angus and Julia Stone
Track: ‘Yellow brick road’ from the album Down the way (2010)

In the days leading up to the temporary closure of the Gallery, more than once I found myself heading down the escalators to view Soda Jerk’s video work After the rainbow on display in Shadow catchers. (You can now take a video tour of the exhibition online.)

One of the perks of my role as senior conservator of time-based art is that I have unlimited access to the Gallery’s diverse collection of film and video works from the relative comfort of the conservation laboratory. But the beauty of After the rainbow is best seen in a gallery space, where its immersive nature has the capacity to swallow the viewer in its undeniable truth and perfect sorrow. The Gallery has been closed for I-don’t-even-know how many days, and I still can’t get one scene out of my mind: the moment when an aged, disenchanted Judy Garland meets her younger self as her most famous character, Dorothy from the 1939 film The wizard of Oz. Through this momentary exchange we get a glimpse of the toll this journey took, or as Angus Stone testifies within the lyrics of a sweet folk tune, ‘I lost my mind long ago. Down that yellow brick road’.

Artist: Bob Evans
Track: ‘Darlin’ won’t you come?’ from the album Suburban songbook (2006)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that during this time of forced reflection, I have been drawn to the concepts explored in The wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, or folk musician Bob Evans, from time to time I dream of running away with my darlin’ – out of this current predicament – to be free. Other times, I simply feel grateful to be home and safe. How quickly the desire to be a runaway can overcome us, only to reach our destination and have this desire immediately replaced with a dull ache for home, for our familiar routines and the people we hold close. As Evans confesses, ‘I was dumb. I was foolin’ around. Always searching for something I’d found. Now I know I could die and I’d be happy. Darlin’ won’t you come and retire with me’. Many of us, like the musicians in this playlist, spend a considerable amount of time journeying – chasing conflicting concepts of home and the idea that we may be transformed if we could only click our heels (or sneakers) together three times.

Artist: You Am I
Track: ‘Purple sneakers’ from the album Hi fi way (1996)

The opening lyrics of You Am I’s ‘Purple sneakers’ takes us to the non-existent Glebe Point Bridge. If this bridge did exist, it would be just up the road from the Abercrombie Hotel where the indie night every Friday was aptly named Purple Sneakers. The Abercrombie, in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, was a music venue where the drinks were cheap, the floor was always sticky, and the smell of stale beer perfumed the bar. Before ‘hipster’ was a dirty word, this is where all the indie boys and girls congregated to scratch an itch, listen to great music and just feel better. While Purple Sneakers found new life after the Abercrombie, moving to its new home nearby at the Lord Gladstone Hotel in 2010 and hosting a radio show on FBi Click, I never went back. By this time, I had decided to call it a day. Replacing ‘knitted vests, purple sneakers and tight grey jeans’ for oversized jumpers and tracksuit pants. In bed by 9pm on a Friday night – just when the party should be getting started.

Artist: Julia Jacklin covers The Strokes
Track: ‘Someday’ from Triple J’s Like a version (2019)

I cannot think of Converse sneakers and skinny jeans without conjuring up the image of the ultimate early 2000s New York band, The Strokes. Yes, I managed to work in a track from their breakout 2001 album Is this it on an Australian playlist thanks to the exquisite and solemn cover by Julia Jacklin, featured on Triple J’s Like a version in 2017. My love for The Strokes knows no bounds and when I listen to the song ‘Someday’ my world makes perfect sense.

It began with the decision to ‘waste no more time’ by blowing off Year 10 maths to lay on the high school hockey field with a dear childhood friend – our bodies connected by the short wire from the clunky Sony discman, a single ear bud for each of us – we listened to this track over and over. In the many years since then, life has taken us in different directions, but we still keep the promise we made on the grass to stay by each other’s side. And so, from wherever we are – California, London, Tokyo – day or night the phone might ring. On the line the lyrics are almost entirely drowned out by the roar of the crowd. The only line that comes through the receiver clearly is, ‘when we were young, oh man did we have fun. Always’.

Artist: The Waifs
Track: ‘London still’ from the album Up all night (2003)

My childhood friend lives in London now, at the opposite end of the Earth, along with thousands of other Australians who took advantage of the UK Youth Mobility Scheme and presumably never looked back. That said, for anyone who has ever had to endure the taste of bitter, burnt coffee after a 25-hour flight across oceans, the excitement of new adventures can quickly turn into melancholy and a longing for your old haunt where the humble flat white is not a foreign concept. ‘London still’, a track by the Australian folk-rock band The Waifs, is the anthem for the homesick expatriate who, with thoughts of home and the people who fill it, feel as if their left arm has been lost in a war.

‘And if I ever come home/And I, I think I will/I hope you’re gonna wanna hang at my place on Sunday still’

For the lucky ones, home is a space where you are safe and protected. Home is often the place where you feel the strongest romantic love ¬ just listen to Ginderman’s song ‘Palaces of Montezuma’. Home can be coming back to the same place every year, gathering with family as Paul Kelly sings ‘How to make gravy’. Home can exist for mere moments, like in Josh Pyke’s tune ‘Memories and dust’. Most of all, home is the memory of it, as Sarah Blasko laments in her exquisite cover of Cold Chisel’s ‘Flame trees’. (All to be found on the complete playlist.)

So whatever home means to you, perhaps Dorothy was right all along. Home. There is really no place like it.