Given the recent renaissance of all things 'Goya's Child' - in part due to the 'Reverbnation' and 'You Tube' sites which now feature audio or video of much of the GC2 set from the mid to late 90s, as well as rare examples of early Goya's Child (1) material - I've been asked a number of times: 'What was Goya's Child (1) about?' Often there has been a follow up question: 'What does the theme behind the band mean to you now?' In this piece I'll try to answer both questions - though I emphasise I'm speaking only for myself - the other four members of the original band undoubtedly have different perspectives and certainly GC(2) went in a slightly different direction (though with important continuities)after my departure.
What was the band about back in the early 1990s?
I think that question is best answered by a more or less private non-commercial video I've put together at You-Tube. I'll elaborate after you the reader/viewer has viewed it - it depicts something of the mood of the band back in the early days - and also features/pays homage to some of the influences that fed into the original band idea back in 1991. The song featured is an early live version of our signature tune "Goya's Child' by, of course, Goya's Child - through this song, perhaps more than any other, it is possible to get a glimpse of what the band was possibly all about.
Goya's Child, by Goya's Child, 1992 live version, copyright of the original 1991, lyrics: Irvine/Pynchon/Ferlinghetti music: White, Thorpe, Mannix, O'Neill.
Although we jammed an early version of the song at a local poet/writer/academic's block of land in the spring of 91 the song actually took a long time to reach its mature form. Indeed I never quite felt we ever completed it properly (metaphor for the band?) - and yet there was something compelling about it, also almost ominous. It is fitting perhaps that Thomas Pynchon (the great postmodern novelist) features in the lyrics of the first verse (I simply added the lyric melody to lines I suspect he may have drawn from another source and that appear at the back of Gravity's Rainbow), as does Ferlinghetti at the end, with his poem on Goya - recited often at our gigs by Rod Blackhirst who came up with the idea for placing it at the end of the song.
The guitarist, James Mannix and I - were also being exposed to both classical and modernist art, philosophy and literature in the Humanities BA course at that time (there wasn't much postmodernism, however)- at what became La Trobe University (Bendigo). Favourite modernist artists - Ernst and Munch - also feature and the particular paintings that most summarised the cathartic side to the band's central theme (at least as I saw it). The painting The Temptation of St Anthony by Ernst, of course, featured on an early cover of The Primal Scream by Arthur Janov, also a big influence on me in the mid to late 80s, as did Munch's famous painting 'The Scream'. I took this symbolism quite seriously a tthe time and of course the Goya painting completes the link - 'Saturn Devouring Cronus' is a metaphor, quite simply, for what at that time I took to be childhood (growing up) in the hyper-industrialised Western world. Straight out of Freud's 'Civilisation and its Discontents' you might say!
At the time I was good friends with the Bendigo based Groffian/Primal therapist Lionel Exell (also a 12th dan professor of martial arts!). The 'expressionistic/Artaudian/psychoanalytic' side to the band coincided, luckily, with avant garde/expressionistic aspects to the grunge movement - which we were being influenced by - The Smashing Pumpkins, for example, sang ' Despite all my Rage I am still Just a Rat in a Cage' - as good a summary of life on earth in the 1990s as any, I think! Nick Cave, with his cathartic outbursts and dark poetry, also influenced us as did many other bands: U2, The Smiths, Paul Kelly, The Chills, The Doors, The Cult, The Jam, The Clash, Siouxie and the Banshees, Pink Floyd, Suzanne Vega, etc. etc. ...
Usually it is not particularly useful to be too 'intellectual' about one's music if one is in a 'rock band' - one risks being called 'wanky' or 'pretensious' (especially in Australia!) ... best to keep one's deeper ruminations to oneself - particularly in one's mid-20s (my age then) when playing to night club or pub crowds quite capable of throwing beer cans or glasses! ... However, early 90s alt rock was all about angst, distorted echo guitar and ear-splitting vocal screams - I felt that so long as we had a fair bit of that 'expressionistic' primal/cathartic stuff and a good beat going on (provided by Richie O'Neill) people wouldn't mind a bit of poetry thrown in as the dessert! At the time the guys pretty much agreed - none of us were interested in creative compromise and we played covers only grudgingly (some said to us a' 'A recipe for suicide in Central Victoria! at that time') However, as we looekd at it people didn't like our music then we weren't going to chase them.
Liam and I (the main lyricists) were (and still are) after all is said and done, poets, and so that aslant way of viewing the world is fundamental to everything Goya's Child (1) wrote (singly or together). James Mannix was also a wonderful classical guitarist - his mastery of complex classical chord sequences and the like amazed all of us. Elements of the precise, almost mathematical, and melodically complex world of classical music - particularly post-French Revolution classical music - mirrored Goya's visual themes - evident in his greatest paintings. The aura of these influences is a constant undertow to even the most apparently simple GC(1) guitar melodies - we were playing rock'n'roll after all ("Be careful diverging from the three chord rule!". How this passion of James' converted into the strange, haunting echo-laden electric guitar melodies he routinely came up with is a big part of the GC (1 & 2's) musical signature. Again, not something one advertises in one's mid-20s in an alt rock band!
From the beginning I think it is also fair to say that there was a 'mythopoetic' dimension to GC (1) - partly arising out of our engagement with the Humanities department at La trobe and partly out of Richie's interest in Egyptian culture. Behind such interests was a kind of experiential internationalism or global consciousness that belies the band's apparent Bendigo-Wangarrata - provincial origins. I was born in the UK and lived for long periods of time in New Zealand - I also have a love of Asian cultures and have spent time in the US (see my vidoe accompaniment to GC1 songs up at You-Tube). others in the group have also travelled extensively. All of that went into the GC (1) mix - and is still evident in GC (2) I think.
The 'Child' of Goya's Child is thus a many layered archetypal symbol that became the flash point for our collective creative energies - it inspired songs such as the one you've just viewed/listened to as well as numerous others.
What Do the Themes of the Band Mean to me Now?
This was the question I found most difficult to answer when put on the spot about it by a friend recently. I've existed with this music for 19 years now and it has become so deeply embedded in my nervous system that it is perhaps difficult to comment on it from any kind of perspective. I'm no longer a twenty something year old struggling to come to terms with a split up that saw me lose daily access to two of my children. I've also done many other creative things since the early nineties and these days I probably see myself as a writer/poet/teacher as much as I see myself as a lyricist. And yet the love of creating powerful evocative music has never left me. One cannot perpetually return to one's youth - there is nothing to 're-capture' - creative people have to keep moving on, exploring, learning, creating, critiquing etc. and our developmental concerns change as we grow older- if not one may find oneself in a stagnant place - a place of perpetual adolescence (the fate of many in the music industry who got famous young, I feel).
How relevant is the 'archetype' of the wounded child painted by Goya to me now as a man in his mid-forties? The answer is complex - I'd like to think I've moved on, I'd perhaps like to think that Goya's mutilated child has, for me anyway, turned into Mabon, the miraculous/magical child of early Celtic mythology - a wise, natural child at home in the world (at least after his release from imprisonment!). And though that is how I feel - or rather how the inner child in me often feels (particularly when around my own children) - I'm well aware that for many in the world the reality of their daily existence is still - sadly - best summarised by that dreadful painting by Goya. I think it is fair to say that GC (2) moved in the above direction earlier than I did - songs like 'Pure' and 'Whailing to the Waves' illustrate the transition well. For me it didn;t come until the completion of my PhD (on ennui) in 1998 and the publication of it and my novel Dream-Dust Parasites in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Perhaps that had something to do with the circumstances of my separation from two of my children. My more recent poetry, however, is less 'modernist/angsty', and more postmodernist and magical realist. To me GC (2) developed the magical realist potentials of the main GC (1) theme quite well - though a song like 'Daddy's Dance' clearly re-explores early GC (1) themes - and of course they kept playing some GC (1) songs, though often in modified form. Likewise, the old themes feature prominently in the soundtrack to the Freedom Deep movie that featured GC (2) and GC (1) [reworked] material.
Whether we individually or collectively moved on from the intensity of the early songs as we aged I think it is clear enough that the music we created in the early 90s - GC (1) - still speaks to the suffering self inside many people. Indeed, as a poet a poem I wrote in the early 2000s about refugee children in Australian detention centres, 'The Refugee fund' (see listing at this site) (which was eventually published alongside the works of modernist poets like Neruda and Rilke in an international anthology) arguably harked back to the early Goya's Child theme of the mistreatment of children. The music of GC (1) is as intense to listen to and play now as it was back then, perhaps because it arises out of the deepest longings of the young adults who created it. Although the songs are often expresssionistic about the ways of the world, I yet find some of them strangely comforting (due to some weird emotional/artistic law best understood by Blues musicians!). There is also a timeless quality to some of the pieces that I appreciate more and more now as I grow older.
From this vantage point, the bullshit anxieties/ego conflicts and commercial seductions of the 'music world' (and interestingly the taboo on being 'intelligent' and 'intellectual' about one's music) have completely disappeared for me. Strangely enough our diminuative status on the 'music scene' over the past 18 years has probably been a blessing - at least to me personally as a post-band poet and writer. I thus come to the music again at a point in my life where an honest re-appraisel seems possible. Our central themes are certainly still relevant to me, but I come at them from different perspectives (sometimes deeper, sometimes just different). Likewise, those themes have been augmented or modified by new themes/interests/concerns - in my case global/environmental, political and mythopoetic/spiritual - as I said I think GC (2) went part way down the mythopoetic/magical realist path, and with good creative results.
At the end of the day it seems important now to share with others (through the new communication technologies) something of what we were thinking/feeling when we created those early songs - also to allow our audiences to re-experience, or experience for the first time, some of the intensity of early GC (1) live performances. For all our deficiencies as a band I think getting so much material from both versions of the band up on-line in recent months achieves much. For one it's meant me personally trawling through over 60hrs of band jams from the early 90s and relistinening to dozens of songs and parts of songs - a vast corpus of music! The music of both versions of the band well and truly deserves an online archive/showcase - however, belated its arrival!
"Goya's Child are the most hauntingly innovative 90s alternative rock band you probably never got to listen to ..."