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Who’s Gonna Make The Gravy: An Investigation

Things are about to get weird.

Arguably Australia's greatest Christmas carol, Paul Kelly's ‘How to Make gravy’, is an over played masterpiece mixing the absent longing of Irving Berlin's ‘White Christmas’ with the lament of a down-on-his-luck protagonist. However, while the track is empirically a banger, there are some issues that I've discovered with the song’s content and mythology that might make for an 'interesting' Christmas chat with your family. Let’s dive in, shall we? 

Our first question: What is the lyrical content's medium? Is it a letter, or a phone call? Most people you would say it’s a letter. The romantic notion of a letter from prison is a well worn trope in literature, so it makes sense. However, there are a holes in that theory. Could it be a phone call? 

The song begins with Joe saying, “Hello Dan, it’s Joe here”. That’s the first give away that this might be a phone call. It’s much more of a real-time conversation opener than the one-way communication of a letter.  

Secondly, its dated the 21st of December. In 1996 when the song was released, Australia Post would have been hard pressed with the influx of seasonal mail to get the letter to Dan by the 25th of December. 

It’s believed that the setting is Pentridge, as Kelly's connection to the prison stems from working on the 1994 film Everynight... Everynight. Consequently, we have a supposed location for Joe. 

The only real understanding we have of where Dan is located is from the line “Stella's flying in from the coast”, which lends itself to the assumption that Dan is located somewhere inland enough with an airport.  

Finally, one of the more obvious and overlooked points that this isn't a letter is the fact there is music playing in the background. Science. 

All of this evidence suggests that this “letter” is in fact a phone call and should be treated as such when listening to it. 

That isn't where this study ends though. Like any good gravy, here’s where the plot starts to thicken. It seems that Kelly has created his own literary universe where stories overlap — a theory that’s been popular amongst the most devout Kelly fans. Its’ a nice thought that they are all connected, but does it hold up? Let’s investigate. 

In a 2002 interview, Kelly states that there is a connection to earlier recordings of his. Namely ‘To Her Door’ and ‘Love Never Runs on Time’. Kelly's assertion in the interview is this: “I’m sort of aware where certain songs are written a few years apart from each other – ‘To Her Door,’ then ‘Love Never Runs on Time’ and ‘How To Make Gravy’ – I’ve got a feeling it’s the same guy. He keeps coming back.”

What Kelly has overlooked in that statement is that the characters in songs have different names. In ‘To Her Door’, the line “shove it Jack, I'm walking out your fucking door” appears as directed at the male character in the song. Now either Jack changed his name to Joe in the nine-year gap, or Kelly has used “shove it Jack” as more of an expression not meant to be taken literally. 

At this point, its inconclusive as to whether Kelly intended to create a stand-alone universe for Jack (Joe) and Rita.  

Enjoy your fucking gravy.

By Alexender Ribsworth