Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
Jess Beck, Pirra — No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom
Dear Tragic Kingdom,
It’s been a while, and I’m terrible at love letters, but I owe a lot to you. I was 12 years old and you were the first album I bought myself. Pulling out the cover art and liner notes, I stared at Gwen with her bleached blonde hair, shiny well-fitted dress, her iconic red lips and pencil-thin eyebrows (yes I ended up plucking mine the same way, thankfully they grew back), thinking one day I wanna be like you.
It was also a significant time because my older sister had just left home to train as a dental nurse up in Adelaide, 4 hours away from our property. I was up in the big smoke with mum and dad checking in to see how she was getting on. Having you was a great distraction from the sadness — knowing we’d be coming home without her. You might remember that this was also when I had the realisation that in order to follow my dreams, I too would have to leave home one day. But at least now I had something to really aspire to.
‘Just a Girl’ started my obsession. I understand the significance of this song more now. But even as a pre-teen, seeing Gwen kick and stamp around a room, throwing in a few impressive push-ups and then staring into the camera with a sarcastic innocence, I knew she had a strong message to send and it made me feel empowered. “Oh, I’ve had it up to here! Oh, am I making myself clear?”
Gwen had guts. She was a tomboy like me that also had her feminine moments. As a kid and teen I could be rounding up the sheep on the 110 postie bike on our farm, clearing up paddocks by picking up sticks and lighting fires, or be back in the house dressing up in my older sisters clothes, to sing and record my voice floating out over our property.
The image of Gwen in a polka-dotted dress, barefoot in the ‘Don’t Speak’ video is so vivid to me from the first time I saw her in it. I got up early to watch RAGE and changed the channel to catch the song again on Video Hits. I sang along to this song a hundred times until I could sing it dynamically perfect. In as sense, you were a key part in teaching me to sing.
I grew up, rapt in six more outstanding singles including my other favourite ‘Sunday Morning’, ska punk and reggae rock. It was a new sound to me and I loved it.
Looking back at you Tragic Kingdom, you still inspire me. I’ve been working hard with my band Pirra, sure it’s been a slow burn, but it’s been fun too. No Doubt released three albums before your commercial success. Maybe it will take me three, or maybe twelve, who knows? But one day we’ll be together, so until then, don’t speak cause I know what you’re saying.
Pirra’s new single and EP title-track ‘Rabbit Hole’ is out now.
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