You probably wouldn’t think the topic of age discrimination by employers would make much of a song. Well, sit back, relax and watch the poignant video of “Dear Sir/Madam” from Australian singer/songwriter Kelea. Get some tissues first.
I was tipped off to the song by a Facebook post about it from anti-ageism activist and former Next Avenue Influencer in Aging of the Year Ashton Applewhite. Then, I was so moved after watching the video, I needed to learn the backstory.
So, I rang up Kelea — her real name: Kelly Gardner — in Perth and heard out. Here’s our conversation, the video and the “Dear Sir/Madam” lyrics:
Next Avenue: How did you become a singer/songwriter?
Kelea: I started out as a law and commerce grad and worked in corporate law for many years, as an executive assistant and an office manager. I decided a legal career was not the right fit. About four years ago, I decided I wanted to do music. I went to Perth and started writing. I also looked at going back to corporate administrative work part-time in the last year or so.
“Some have said they’ve had trouble listening to my song; it upsets them and reminds them of their experiences.”
What’s your musical background?
As a child, I knew I wanted to be a singer. My mom was a singer and her parents had a band. My musical influences came out of studying at WAPAA (the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) after receiving my law and commerce degree. I always had a foot in both worlds.
I started out in jazz vocals and studied piano as a child. For quite a while, I didn’t do music, and then I came back to it. I sang in rock bands and started writing electronic music and ballads.
Always as Kelea? How did that name come about? And does it mean something?
A few years back, I decided a single name might be more appropriate. It’s a blend of my first name, Kelly, and my middle name, Lea.
And where did ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ come from? What inspired the song?
From my previous experiences. It’s a blend of things and thoughts from different experiences and people I know.
One of the key things was that at one point, I was on the internet, looking for a job and saw, I think it was a recruitment company, actively saying: ‘Don’t put your age on your resumé. Take out all the dates. It got to the point where I almost got slightly annoyed. I think that’s what sparked pen to paper with the song.
And then I had a friend who had been looking for a job for quite some time, a mature lady who was perfectly qualified. But she just couldn’t seem to find a position. I knew how qualified she is and how appropriate she is for so many roles. So, I had to ask myself: What’s going on?
And little things like seeing a mature man on the bus. I started to think about what his story might be, receiving letters with those sorts of quotes in them [from Dear Sir/Madam] from employers saying: ‘We wish you well in your future endeavors.’
Age discrimination by employers is a serious problem in the United States. Is it in Australia, too?
I can’t say with absolute authority, but my personal feeling is that yes, I believe it’s quite prominent. The stories and feedback I’m getting from the song makes me believe it’s rife.
What has been the reaction to the song?
I’ve had people coming to me telling me their experiences. Some have said they’ve had trouble listening to my song; it upsets them and reminds them of their experiences. They identify with it, especially the line about algorithms measuring people’s worth.
I find that incredibly touching. It makes me cry.
Why do you think some employers discriminate against older people?
I think it comes down to assumptions about people of a certain age — assuming they have no technology skills, which is ludicrous. Or that they’re not interested in training or learning new techniques. That is wrong.
My partner is fifty-six; he knows more about technology than anyone I know.
You have to look at people on their own merits; not on face value, but on their real skill sets.
Can you tell me about the video and the man and the woman in it, portraying victims of age discrimination?
We recorded the song in Cummins Theater in Merredin, Australia. I think the actors got in touch with their personal feelings about the song. They shared some stuff with me which was amazing. I was very grateful to them.
What do you hope will be the effect of ‘Dear Sir/Madam?’
I would love for people to share with me their experiences. If we change our view on things and raise awareness, we can make informed decisions.
Do you have plans to do other songs about some of the challenges or opportunities of people over 50?
That’s an interesting question. Perhaps I should. It’s definitely food for thought.
You’re working on releasing your debut EP. When will it be out?
I’m planning for April of next year.
Will you be touring the U.S.?
I would love to come to the U.S. I would be absolutely ecstatic if I could organize a tour. It’s just a question of when.
Thank you for your interest in our company
We received your life summarized in a one-page CV
We regret to inform you, you were unsuccessful
You were one of many, just not the best we’d hoped for
We couldn’t help but notice a few minor holes in your application
And your choice to stay at home lack of Y chromosome gives us hesitation
Not quite suited to our political agenda
But we wish you well in your future endeavours
And the lines beneath her eyes
Earned from mothering a child selflessly
Count for nothing when they’re blinded by an under-35 policy
Thank you for your 35 years with our company
We regret to inform you of our redundancy
Payment enclosed with some great referrals
You were one of many and it’s nothing personal
Yes the umpires pick their sides in a game of high school popularity
There’s a man with a briefcase on a bus and out of work age 53
So I’m sitting and I’m staring hesitating at a box marked date of birth
Please fill in this application so our algorithm works out what you’re worth
Next Avenue Editors Also Recommend:
- Age Discrimination by Employers Is Common, AARP Survey Says
- Next Avenue Exclusive: EEOC Head on Age Discrimination by Employers
- ‘Your Next Avenue’ Podcast Episode 6: Age Discrimination
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