Graham Reid | | 2 min read
There is an interesting dichotomy in this book-album project by Auckland singer-songwriter Jan Hellriegel: In her prose she has an easy, anecdotal and conversational tone but the published words of the new songs on the tie-in CD are refined, poetic and precise.
It is the difference between the artist and the art; and the vicissitudes and joys of the life that informs these penetrating lyrics.
In this non-chronological memoir each song on the album is the title and loose theme of a new chapter.
But Hellriegel doesn't just tell refracted aspects of her life – the childhood in West Auckland, encounters with boys and men, various jobs and student days, her band Cassandra's Ears and her solo career before a hiatus and rebirth in the music business – but weaves through her hard-won philosophy.
She now finds celebration and positivity in difficulties and the resilience to confront them and carry on.
It wasn't always so and she speaks openly of anxiety – her own, in her family – her fears and failures. Yes, the Big Moment which could break her in Australia with her Tremble album was an emotional crash'n'burn in front of tastemakers and career-shapers.
But in a way she's just an older version of the primary school kid with snot hanging from her nose when made to read a passage from the Bible at assembly.
In these highly readable pages Hellriegel is enormously generous to many of her peers in anecdotes and accounts of comradeship, and genuinely nice people appear (among them Robert Smith of the Cure, Jeff Buckley, David Byrne, many from her former record company Warners)
And you feel the warmth of youthful enthusiasm in Cassandra's Ears, being on the road when her solo career got going and just how much others have believed in her considerable talent.
Of course there are nasty souls, losers, the envious and those who she politely refuses to name. But what she has learned from all of these people has informed her self-described “suburban philosophy” which is about coping, acceptance, getting up and doing it again, self-actualisation and just breathing quietly through whatever it is.
For those of her own age these may not come as any great revelation – they are however useful reminders – but to young people, women in particular, entering the music industry (and that is what it is, she plays a key role in it at many levels) this book could a very helpful users-guide and reference point when things go awry. As they will.
Jan Hellriegel – who exudes a great and grateful love to her parents, friends, children and partner – was an enthusiastic and perhaps youthfully naive woman in a male-dominated industry who had to negotiate it on her her own terms.
But her determination, optimism and justifiably placed confidence in her abilities got her through.
Until it didn't.
That is the story told in the book here, informally and digressively as if over coffee in a sunlit, suburban kitchen.
Then there are those refined songs on the tie-in album which add another and vital dimension to these thoughts and reflections: some bristle with coiled rage, others are generous in spirit, there's So Happy written when she remembered her father's advice to her as a moody early-20s indie musician to “play some happy music Jan, that'll cheery you up” . . .
And you can't hear the pained ache of Home Not Home without going back to that sad chapter about her supportive mother.
With longtime fellow musician drummer/producer Wayne Bell – a rock throughout these pages – alongside the likes of Brett Adams, Ben King, Mark Hughes, string and horn arrangements, Sportsman of the Year is as fine an album as anything in Jan Hellriegel's illustrious career.
And it comes with those revealing extended “liner notes” in the utterly engaging, sometimes funny, often moving, illustrated 220 page paperback of the same title.
As she says in the title track, “these are your power years, go on and take them, there's nothing to fear, just go on embrace them, they're yours . . .”
The book and CD of Sportsman of the Year are available now (separately or together) on pre-order here, the book will be in shops April 29 and the tie-in CD will be released digitally on May 12 (Mothers' Day)