Jenny Mor­ris no longer sings or writes — but her life in song is about to be hon­oured by her peers. Kim Knight re­ports.

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

Jenny Mor­ris no longer sings or writes but her life in song is about to be hon­oured by her peers. Kim Knight re­ports.

Bing-bong. The door­bell chimes in the key of ex­pen­sive.

A man en­ters the ho­tel suite with the har­bour view. He prof­fers two plates. They are flat and white. Jenny Mor­ris has been wait­ing for a flat white. Some­thing has been ter­ri­bly lost in trans­la­tion.

The man comes back. He holds two cof­fee pods for the ma­chine. No, says the pub­li­cist, ex­plain­ing firmly she has phoned for a cof­fee from down­stairs. It is her job to feed and water the tal­ent, but there is an­other rea­son she’s do­ing vo­cals. Mor­ris can’t.

“If I have to or­der room ser­vice, it’s f***ed,” says Mor­ris. “Speak­ing on the phone is bad.”

Mor­ris, 61, has spas­modic dys­pho­nia, a con­di­tion that starts with a croaky voice and pro­gresses to bro­ken and in­ter­rupted sen­tences. En­tire words drop out. The sound­track skips and dips. Some­times, the con­di­tion only af­fects speech. In Mor­ris’ case, it has also af­fected her song.

“If I start talk­ing about it, it gets bad. Some­times just ran­domly it’s worse and some­times it’s much bet­ter. Which is why it’s such a co­nun­drum to the med­i­cal fra­ter­nity. It’s neu­ro­log­i­cal, it’s ac­tual mis­fir­ing nerves and synapses.”

Her tone is dry and wry: “It’s a many splen­dored thing.”

The woman who belted Tears for The Croc­o­diles; who sold 70,000-plus copies of her de­but solo record, Body and Soul; who opened for Prince and Tears for Fears and toured for 18-months as a back­ing vo­cal­ist with INXS no longer sings or writes songs — but her life is de­voted to song­writ­ers.

In 2013, she be­came the first fe­male chair­per­son of APRA-AMCOS, the acro­nym-heavy col­lec­tive that ad­vo­cates for Aus­tralasian com­posers, lyri­cists and music pub­lish­ers. Next month, at the Apra Sil­ver Scroll awards, Mor­ris will be in­ducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.

Study her great­est hits list and think: About time. A few days be­fore she got on a plane from her home in Syd­ney to a ho­tel in Auck­land,

Can­vas asked Mor­ris to con­sider her life in song. We asked for music from her youth and tunes that meant home. To nom­i­nate a song for the lovers, the de­parted, the un­rav­el­ling. Sound­checks, en­cores and some­thing that meant “suc­cess”. Songs, to steal from Stevie Won­der, in the key of life.

Okay, said Mor­ris. And then she be­gan with the deaths.

ME HE Ma­nurere was, ac­cord­ing to a web­site de­voted to the his­tory of New Zealand folk music, first recorded by Ernest McKin­lay at Whakare­warewa in the early 1930s. The singable English verses were pro­duced with the as­sis­tance of guide Maggie Pa­pakura, Sir Peter Buck and Wiremu H. Rangi.

“It’s a Maori ac­tion song,” says Mor­ris. “It’s one of the type of songs my fam­ily used to sing to­gether. My fa­ther was brought up in the King Coun­try in a lit­tle place that had mostly a Maori pop­u­la­tion and so he thought he was Maori. Con­se­quently we have all taken on that as our cul­ture be­cause ... I don’t know, but I don’t think I’m the only Pakeha in New Zealand who feels like that.

“When I go around the world and I no­tice peo­ple, es­pe­cially white peo­ple in their en­vi­ron­ments, I feel re­ally lucky be­cause I could feel bereft of any cul­ture be­cause we were ba­si­cally im­mi­grants and we don’t re­ally have our own cul­ture. When peo­ple die, when peo­ple ... what do you do?

“That struck me most when my brother was killed in a car ac­ci­dent when he was 17. I was 13 and my mem­ory is we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what the process was and so we

Jenny Mor­ris today and, above right, per­form­ing at Le Bercy sta­dium in Paris, 1989.

Mor­ris with Julian Len­non.

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