Saturday, 15 September 2012

Seasons Of Love - Gerard Kennedy/Sven Libaek (1972)

I first saw this album on the old Votary Records trades page, listed as ‘for Libaek completists only’. It’s a fair assessment of this LP - Libaek merely provides accompaniment for Australian seventies television star Gerard Kennedy as he recites Rod McKuen-style poetry over a smooth jazz backing. It may be instructive to focus on the music and the poetry separately:

THE MUSIC, BY SVEN LIBAEK. Sven’s compositions on the LP are quite good, if a little innocuous (it is intended as background music after all). There are some great moments though, which is not surprising as this was recorded right in the middle of Libaek’s golden era - he would go on to record the soundtrack for Inner Space a year after this release. None of the musicians are credited, but I am pretty confident that the usual suspects are playing on this record: George Golla on guitar, Don Burrows on flutes, John Sangster on vibes and percussion and so on. Many tracks also feature the addition of string sections which tends to bring out great stuff from Sven. The frustrating thing is that there are very few moments on the LP where the music is brought to the forefront and given a chance to be heard. Autumn is one such track, where we get a chance to hear haunting flute lines cycle over orchestral strings with a cool jazz underpinning from the rhythm players. The twin, harmonising sax lines bookending Spring are another lovely touch. A few themes are repeated and developed over a couple of tracks which adds some depth, and was not something that Sven usually did. But unfortunately, any moments of Libaek goodness invariably get interrupted by Gerard Kennedy’s awkward, artless spoken word.

THE POETRY, BY GERARD KENNEDY. Let me be blunt; the poetry on this record is bad. Really bad. Really, really bad. I think I could state without risk of hyperbole that this is the worst poetry I have ever heard. Gerard affects a bad boy outsider persona for the poetry, but also injects a strange sort of cutesiness that, while not necessarily at odds with the material, fills me with an intense sort of simultaneous rage and embarrassment. Embarragement?

Throughout Seasons Of Love, Kennedy’s turn of phrase is embarrassingly unselfconscious and pretentious - I could pick almost any line from the album to illustrate this, here’s a random sample: ‘[Let’s] put up a maze of love with walls a thousand thoughts thick’ from I Think I’ll Build A Wall or “You moved [...] proud and graceful like a young gazelle picking her way through the forest.” from The Quiet Time Of Reason. There are really only two themes that are touched upon in the poems (if I was being kind, I’d call it consistency): Gerard describing how he is an outsider (Travel Broadens The Mind, I Am An Island) or musings on wanting to find love, but being too much of a free-thinking bohemian to be able to love just one woman (all the other tracks). Gerard is always alone, even in a crowd. The rain is his brother, and the wind is his friend.


Of course, Kennedy can’t be blamed for the abysmal standard of the poetry because despite the strongly personal nature of the verse, he didn’t actually write it. The poetry itself is credited to one Warwick Randall. One website I read even suggested that ‘Warwick Randall’ was a pseudonym for Kennedy, but from what I can ascertain, Randall is a real person. He has a couple of books of poetry to his name, is credited as working with Kennedy on a number of television shows and wrote for Melbourne broadsheet The Age in the early eighties. 

The fact that Kennedy didn’t even write the words that he delivers with such hammy enthusiasm only adds to the weirdness of this record. Did Kennedy recognise his limitations as a poet and outsource the job? Did he think that his friend was a criminally under appreciated poet and wanted to bring his work to a wider audience? Perhaps Gerard just wanted to portray himself as a tough yet arty nonconformist but didn’t actually have the poetic skills required for an LP of this nature and so turned to a lesser known, but confident poet whom he happened to know through work? I have so many questions about the execution and production of this LP, but I suspect that everyone involved with Seasons Of Love instantly forgot about it soon after it was released.

...And yet, I keep listening to this LP. I tend to eschew the ‘so bad it’s good’ school of music appreciation (I prefer music that’s ‘so good it’s good’) but there’s something about Seasons Of Love that keeps me coming back. There’s something mesmerising about this seventies wannabe alternative pin-up boy effusing cringe-inducing poetry (that he didn’t even write) over a backdrop of sweet, smooth jazz from a composer who was at the top of his game and probably wrote this material in his sleep. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating cultural artifact - when, where, could this have ever been considered cool?

Label: Festival
Released: 1972
Players: Gerard Kennedy - spoken word
Sven Libaek - composer, arranger
Musicians uncredited.