This summer I’ve had two episodes that have knocked me for a six, particularly the second, because it came out of the blue.
The first episode: driving along country roads when a song began playing: a mash-up of Primal Scream’s paean to partying, ‘Loaded’, with the ridiculously bombastic ‘Epic’ by Faith No More. Neither song usually does it for me, to my mind they haven’t aged well, but the way the DJ, Dunproofin’, had overlaid the two tunes to create something so fresh and joyful – well, there went the tingling of my skin, the blood-rush to my spine.
The second episode: recently I spent a morning with Australian pop-art guru Martin Sharp at his Sydney home. We talked about his love of Tiny Tim, who Sharp considers a genius in the order of Van Gogh, but then he floored me when he said that Susan Boyle, of Britain’s Got Talent fame, was equally as important.
Back home, I googled my way to a YouTube video of Boyle’s original live performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Miserables. Now, some facts about me: I rarely watch TV, reality programs leave me as cold as a cadaver, and show tunes are invariably so saccharine as to be vacuous. But I forced myself to watch Boyle sing; I needed to know why someone of Martin Sharp’s stature considers her brilliant.
Susan Boyle, who has the physique of a front-row forward, walks out onto the theatre stage. Her hair looks like it’s been cut by meat-axe and somehow she’s squeezed herself into a potato-sack frock. She faces the immediate derision of the judges and the audience. Innocently, but confidently, she says she wants to be like Elaine Paige. She dares to announce that she’ll sing ‘I Dream A Dream’; eyes roll into backs of heads.
Then, however, Susan Boyle opens her mouth, she starts to sing. Her singing is heartfelt and precise, it’s passionate without being histrionic, she knows exactly what she’s doing (Sharp is right). Within seconds the audience is standing, applauding and hollering. From contempt they’re now in love, rapturous even. The three judges can’t stop smiling; two of them begin crying. And then, as Boyle carries on with the song, hitting the sustained upward notes, there it goes, the tingling of my skin, the blood-rush to my spine.
Goosebumps: it’s a sure sign of life.
And, perhaps, genius.
(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 12 February 2011.)