Sunday Singalong: Deborah Conway

Deborah Conway has been putting feminism in her songs since back when she was the lead singer in the Australian band, Do Re Mi in the 1980s. Remember lyrics like this in Man Overboard?

I’m sick and tired of this position
Hatched underneath an arm
Your crutch under stress
Your rudder when it’s calm
I’m bored of staring at the ceiling
While you point out my flaws
I’ve watched the wallpaper peeling from slamming doors

You talk about penis envy
Your friends applaud
What am I expected to do?
Shout man overboard?

That was a big deal back then. The song made its way up the Australian charts in 1985 with almost no commercial airplay and people were a little aghast to find themselves listening to a song about some ex-boyfriend pontificating about ‘penis envy’. It also contained a lyric about pubic hair and absolutely no chorus. Her biggest hit was the love song, It’s Only the Beginning but Conway has always much preferred writing songs about the darker aspects of relationships. Conway has had musical influences across her career as varied as punk rock, trip-hop and Patsy Cline. Conway has never been afraid to live her feminism out loud, from her early days as a model with under-arm hair to her later days as a working mother:

What are some of the reactions you’re getting from the audience and press at performing in a very pregnant state?

I’ve officially got about six weeks to go, but my gut tells me it’s probably more like four. The first leg of the tour was with a full band and a six-month belly. I frocked up in red sequins with a large heart cut-out over the lump in gold mesh and highlighted with rhinestones. It was a showstopper with a slow reveal as the guitar which I played for the first 5 songs covered the heart completely. I wanted to get Shirley-Bassey-meets-Danny-La-Rue in a postmodern pastiche of glamour and earth mother—alien-style. Anyway, it had the desired effect and audience and critics alike sent up a collective gasp. It is, after all both sexy and funny and I think that came across. There’s also a tendency to see a pregnant woman as something delicate and fragile, so if you’re seen doing anything out of the ordinary, it’s somehow spectacular. Dancing would always get a reaction. In some ways the pregnancy almost overshadowed the album. It became a focus for the straighter press as something they could hook a story on in a country that rarely takes its music seriously enough.

Here’s Conway’s Alive and Brilliant from the Bitch Epic album.

Alive and Brilliant

Way above
The clouds are black
They say it’s gonna pour but I haven’t been keeping track
So now we’re here
In this cage
The Ferris wheel of love, my love, what a charade

It’s been a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time since anyone meant what they said
One step forward
Two steps backward
I won’t wrestle, you won’t talk back
Three deep breaths I’m still alive and brilliant

Turn around
And be polite
I’m so sick of listening to your crap about the breasts you like

Look at me
I am restrained
I’m not screaming like some jealous adolescent here in vain

So you got me
On this ride
What was it darling what exactly did you have in mind
Ferris wheel
Up and down
Is this some dumb metaphor to tell me you’re not hanging round

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, parenting, work and family


4 replies

  1. I love both “Man Overboard” and “Alive and Brilliant”, just for the level of irritated intelligence in all of them. I always have this picture of the narrator in those songs being a very intelligent woman trapped in a world which doesn’t really acknowledge her mind because it’s too busy looking at her tits. A lot of her songs have this “intelligent woman” vibe about them, something which is so refreshing to run across – I like being able to listen to music which challenges my mind with the lyrics.

  2. I’m SO glad you chose to put up Alive and Brilliant for this post, I always had a passion for that song. I remember seeing her play live (at the Harbourside Brasserie – remember that?) during a Very Pregnant tour, and she was fab. Also Bitch Epic may have the best album cover picture of all time.

  3. I can belt out Man Overboard at about 200dB when I’m driving. I’m sorry if you’ve ever been in the general vicinity.
    I remember hearing Conway talk about Alive and Brilliant in an interview once. She said she played it for the band, and the guitarist pointed out it was in 5/4 time. She hadn’t noticed. 🙂
    Warnings Moving Clockwise is another dead set fav for me. Although it’s thoroughly depressing that the political situation she describes hasn’t changed at all in 25 years.
    PS: Remember pants that stopped at your ankles?

  4. Oh, and Orlando, I think I may have been at the same gig. I remember her talking about how big her boobs were while she was breastfeeding.

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