I wrote it back in Australia at my dad’s house by the lake, (where we filmed the clip for Scout’s Honour) after watching an episode of Happy Days. Suzie Quattro was singing a song in Al's Diner. It gave me an idea .
I started noodling around on my guitar and came up with the concept of Bad Valentine. I was interested in the idea of the love hate relationships we all have with ourselves, how we treat ourselves with kindness some days and distain on others. The good and the bad voices within. We can only control it so much, so sometimes we’ve gotta take what we can get. “I’m lonely, very lonely but I’d rather be lonely with you…what’s the point in leaving you if you just leave me too?” … And the cycle continues, there’s no escaping yourself, it’s disturbingly comforting.
Having Bad Valentine as my first project back in Australia after leaving New York was super fun. I pulled up a drum beat and started going to town on it. Knowing what I know now, all the tricks I had learned in NY, having the album under my belt and this as the final piece of the puzzle, it was a joy to work on. I dirtied it up and wrote my ‘standing on a hill with the wind in my hair’ guitar solo. I love this guitar solo. The song suited the record perfectly.
Ed Buller who produced Jet Age for The Superjesus told me once that every album has one song that defines it, it’s not necessarily the single, more the lynch pin of the record. He said Secret Agent Man was that to Jet Age and I now felt that Bad Valentine was this to Rocky’s Diner. Weird how it came last though, like how they say when putting make up on, always finish with your lipstick!
I wanted a lead character who could show fulfilment within a scenario that to most would appear to be failure. I was going to start by describing what my character was, but I decided rather to describe what she wasn’t, and let the listener imagine the rest.
“She’s not 18, living on guts and coca cola, she’s never been on train, or felt the oceans salty water”. I was imagining a woman around my own age, not oblivious to the world around her but not an active participant either. She’s not flighty, she’s a thinker. She has a repetitive life and she enjoys the routine.
“She works at night, and during the day she writes her stories, embellishing details of all her hopes and all her glories, and she knows that all she needs is living inside her”. She would find fulfilment through creating stories about fictitious characters doing fictitious things. Although she had never experienced any of the things her characters had, her rich imagination could illustrate it for her and that was all she needed. This writing was her release and it made her happy and no one in the world could touch that.
I was so into the concept of Rocky’s Diner that I wrote it in 3 different ways.
I had always loved the Billy Joel song “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”. It was 3 songs within one song. I know I said I was trying to keep it simple but I always start with a lot and strip it back.
Like Coco Chanel said, “look in the mirror and take one thing off”. I had a Sinatra quote going around in my head, when he once said to the crowd that he loved the gig because “the place was full of nice smiling, receptive unarmed people”. I wanted to use this somewhere. I started strumming my favourite chords with a capo on the 4th fret because it sounded prettier.
Out of nowhere I began to sing ‘down at the end of a lonely street, there’s a place where the lonely meet, to cook the cold from the day’. Now I was excited and began to get the vision, I remember high fiving the sky when I came up with the line ‘red and white table cloths warm the mood, no one’s really here for the food’.
I decided to do Rocky’s Diner in two parts, to use the beginning of the song I had just worked on as book ends to start and finish the song, but then have a punk rock version in the middle. Something reminiscent of Billy singing ‘A bottle of red, a bottle of white….”and then into a different feel. So I started on the rock version and wrote a new chorus. “And Dean Martin is on the TV, Sinatra’s on the wall and every dame that’s ever graced the place, Rocky’s in love with them all” then at the end I went back into a reprise of the slow intro piece that i used at the beginning.
I completed this version in its entirety and I loved it, but I really missed the chorus of the slow version with the lyrics about the smiling unarmed people. I felt the romance was gone and I wanted it back. So I decided to bump the reprise from the end and write an instrumental rock reprise for it instead and that would then become my Rocky’s Diner.
That freed me up to complete the slow version with the other chorus as a song unto itself, that I would call Rocky’s Reprise.
I’m always of the mindset that we have to move with the ebb and flow of our friends and loved ones but often its harder to do in reality. We all have phases where we become hot headed, inflated versions of ourselves. We think we may be right in a certain situation or we think we may be bigger than the moment and act out of character because of it.
I like the imagery of a giant to depict this change, it’s still the same person on the inside yet has become destructive, clumsy, vulnerable, and a little dangerous and in most cases remorseful.
“Bang my head on the bathroom wall, write a few songs and slaughter them all, pack my bag and head out of town.”
It’s the riggers of day-to-day life and the shortcomings in honest communication that makes us all vulnerable to becoming ‘giants’. It’s all too easy to think ‘well fuck you then I'm outta here’. The beauty of the giant is that even when things seem to have gone too far in the wrong direction,and become seemingly unfixable, a little understanding, a wide berth and a bit of care can shrink the giant back down to size in an instant.
“But I get as far as the door, got a soft spot for love and war, though you drive me round the bend. We can all be giants, products of modern science, every now and then. So don’t be running out on me just yet”
I wanted to write a song about understanding and forgiveness because I had been prone to making rash decisions in moments of anger and 9 times out of 10 I’ve regretted them.
Just like Edith Piaf, I do not wish to live with regrets.