Autumnsongs: Joni Mitchell

12 10 2014

Young Joni Mitchell is late spring, early summer.

That high, high voice streaming up clear like water from a bubbler, so pure your heart stills as your breath is pulled out of you. If you’re not given to tears you close your eyes to keep them in, but that voice, that high, high voice steals them from you anyway, the song carrying them away.

It took Prince to make me appreciate Joni Mitchell. I was a horrible music snob when younger, and by horrible I mean: I missed so much good music because the artist did not fit into what seemed to me ought to matter. I wasn’t quite sure about Prince, either, but when that small, strange genius said that Blue was one of his favorite albums, I thought, Well.

And oh, is Blue a genius album. I generally favor low voices, but Joni was one of the exceptions.

Was is the operative word, here: time and cigarettes have sunk her soprano into the sand, and instead of singing the clear blue sky she sounds like forests and falling leaves and a retiring sun.

She sounds like October.

I was reminded of this as I listed to a Tierney Sutton rendition of “Woodstock”—which is lovely, but I wanted to find a late edition Joni, to hear her sing herself back to a song that was wistful even in her youth.

If you are no longer so interested in keeping the tears in, this version of “Both Sides Now,” from 2000, is for you.

I’m still in my summer, perhaps my late-summer, years. And all this regret and wisdom and that voice, that incredible charcoal voice, makes me yearn for all I didn’t learn in my spring, and all that autumn will bring.





Summersongs: Frente!

31 08 2014

How did I hear of Frente? I have no idea.

I didn’t have cable so I wouldn’t have seen them on MTV (if they were on MTV), and I mostly listened to MPR when I lived in Minneapolis, so I doubt radio was the source.

I can think of two possibilities: a music review in either City Pages or the Twin Cities Reader, or it was playing at the Electric Fetus.

Anyway, “Accidentally Kelly Street” is pure confection, a state I associate with summer:

This is not wholly complimentary, insofar as I’m a more tang/salt than sweet kinda gal, and, of course, I don’t like summer.

Still, if one is in the right—which is to say, light—mood, it can be kind of charming.

Not all of the songs on Marvin the Album are as, well, twee, as this one, but Angie Hart’s high and breathy voice makes even political songs like “Cuscatlan” sound like bouncy summer fun:

Now, I’m not unalterably opposed to twee—I do own a coupla’ Belle & Sebastien cds, after all—but I can only listen to so much before it’s helium “hi! hi! hi!” attitude grates.

Still, in the summer, a song or two of helium-hi’s aren’t all bad.





Summersongs: Romeo Void

7 08 2014

Had enough of the angry money posts? How about biting sex posts?

Biting sex. . . hmmm, I see how that could be taken a couple of different ways. In any case, the “biting” refers to the attitude of Deborah Iyall toward sexy sexytimes and the occasional aftermath.

I first thought “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)” would be the summersong, but after a night out with C & K, thought that maybe “Never Say Never”

Whatever. It’s Romeo Void, and even tho’ Iyall tells the girl that old man would “be warm in your coat”, why be literal about the coat-wearing and the presumably cold weather?

It’s about the beat and the attitude—and the backup boys singing temporary temporary in the chorus.

Do pop songs even use sax anymore? And, yeah, those Eighties video production values. . . .

I might like you better if we slept together
I might like you better if we slept together
I might like you better if we slept together

How can you not sing along to that?





Listen to the music: 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer

18 03 2014

Clearly, this woman is more energetic than I am. Or more obsessive.

When I decided to listen to all of my cds in alphabetical order, I never considered reviewing each and every one.

Okay, maybe I did, but only for a second. It wasn’t meant as a writing assignment for myself, but as a listening assignment. Why did I have these cds, this music? What was I missing? What held me? What no longer did?

Jayzeus christy, why did I buy this?

After I thought the thought, I had another: Hey I should blog about this. Sometimes I run a little dry in the blog department, so blogging about these chunks of listening space would keep the posts flowing. (Bad image, but you know what I mean.) And writing about it publicly would help to keep me listening, even if I got bored with the whole thing. It turned a lark into a project, a way to track my commitment to the music itself.

It’s worked pretty well. Sometimes I listen because I want to listen; sometimes I listen because I haven’t listened in a while; sometimes I listen because there’s something in this set of cds that I want to talk about.

The mixed motives keep me moving.

Anyway, while I very briefly considered mini-reviews of each cd, I turned against the thought almost immediately: blegh. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to offer my response to each cd—as Megan Seling notes, this woman is setting herself up for a book deal (and sure, I did I get a nice bump in readership when a Listen to the Music post was Freshly Pressed: imagine if I were really committed!)—but I wanted to follow where the music took me, not mark every step along the way. If somewhere amidst 10 or 20 cds I came across an overlook or a canyon or a hidden river, I wanted to stretch out in these spots, to linger, to find out if there was still anything there, anything more.

I may be listening my way along the trail, but I’m after something more.





The whole third floor of the hotel gutted by the blast

11 01 2014

I had a Nick Cave phase because: of course I had a Nick Cave phase!

I mean, can you listen to Nick Cave and—key caveat: providing you didn’t leap out of your chair to turn off that sound from the roiling deep—not keep listening to Nick Cave?

It was his track on the Until the End of the World soundtrack that got me, that bass drawl going on about blind pencil-sellers and dogs leaping under wheels and it was horrifying and amazing and who the fuck was the guy and why didn’t anyone tell me about him before?!

(I had that same reaction to finally listening to Patti Smith: Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me about her before? Kiddies, life before cable and the internet was a vast radio wasteland for those of us out of reach of college stations.)

My first cd of his was Henry’s Dream, which contained the terrifying Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry. Oh, the narrator may be “reassuring” his son that amidst all sorts of mayhem (shots in necks, arterial blood spraying, etc.) that “Papa won’t leave you, boy”, but ain’t nothin’ reassuring about any of it:

Run Henry! Run!

I did learn about his previous life as singer in Birthday Party, but beyond that BATS! BATS! song, I didn’t really know much about them: my intensity for Cave burned out before I could trawl his backstory.

As an aside: Nick Cave seemed to be one of those working that masculine brutal/tender trope for which I am an endless sucker. I don’t really know if there’s any feminine equivalent: Patti Smith was never brutal. Chrissy Hynde, maybe? Tho’ she was more contemptuous than anything. Maybe some of the stuff coming out of the Riot Grrls scene, but even if that comes close, I don’t know that it’s the same.

In any case, it’s damned difficult to maintain: it seems you either move beyond it—Nick Cave, Elvis Costello—or you just age into weirdness (if you’re talented enough) or staleness (if you’re not. I don’t know that it’s always-only a young man’s game, but at some point it rends itself apart.

Anyway, what brought all of this on? A trippy Belle Waring thread at Crooked Timber, in which Saul posted this vid of a young Nick Cave, heroin-thin, prancing around in a loincloth fronting Birthday Party:

Holy mother of Jesus.

Yes, for those of you who might see this as pretentious or boring or melodramatic or repellent: I get it, I really do. There are all kinds of things which others’ find fascinatin’ that I think, Huh.

This ain’t one of them.

Repellent, I’ll give you. But mesmerizing, well goddamn, mesmerizing I’m taking for my own.





I just died in your arms tonight

11 01 2014

What song do you most want—or not want—to hear as you shuffle off to Buffalo?

Megan Seling, formerly of the Slog, wrote in to her old paper to note her horror at almost meeting her maker to the sounds of Coldplay.

Coldplay! Yeesh.

(Okay, yes, I have that one Coldplay cd, A rush of blood to the head, or whatever, and I even listen to it sometimes. But it’s pretty fucking insipid music and I’d be pissed too if that were the last thing I ever heard.)

Commenters noted their feared last notes, with the Eagles’s “Hotel California” getting a couple of votes, as did Toto generally. Oh, and DOUG linked to a great Ellen Forney comic on the horror of going down to bad tunes.

I don’t know that there’s any song that I would absolutely hate hate hate to have playing when I die—I mean, there are so many crappy songs out there it would be tough to choose—and, frankly, it would it makes own absurdist non-sense if I died to something ridiculous.

I have thought about what I’d want played at my funeral. Poi Dog Pondering’s Bury Me Deep gets a nod, and at one point I considered (for reasons which aren’t really clear to me, except for the Emmylou part) Emmylou Harris’s cover of Ballad of a Runaway Horse, but I’ve since dropped that. Prayer in Open D is also nice, albeit much more spiritual than I am.

There’s also Talking Heads’s Heaven, which is a bit of a downer, actually (and I want people to have fun at my final going-away party!); Eurythmics’s Heaven, if only because it has that nice Eighties beat; but I’d prefer Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins, because, really, that’s the kind of choice every corpse should get to make.

Then there’s Happy Trails, but since the Van Halen version was my high school graduating class’s unofficial song (the school wouldn’t let us play it at graduation), I don’t know that I’d want to double-dip.

I might go with something grand and sentimental—the Waterboys’s This is the Sea is a song that demands teary drunken tributes—but maybe I’d like a bit of a twist in that Irish whiskey.

So Kate Bush’s Jig of Life it is. Big drums and compellingly obscure lyrics and oh, a jig to send me on:

“We are of the going water and the gone.
We are of water in the holy land of water
And all that’s to come runs in
With the thrust on the strand.”

Just so.





Just sing

7 01 2014

The great Gotham Rock Choir experiment: how’d it go?

I had fun. There are some truly terrific singers in the Choir—some are folks who came to New York to do theatre, got sidetracked (by the need for rent money) into straight jobs, but who still want to perform, others who happened to discover that they could really sing—and by the time of our performance, in mid-December, we sounded pretty damned good. And, quite apart from the singing, the people (altos, represent!) are pretty damned great.

I’m glad I did it, but I won’t be doing it again. I’m just not that good.

This isn’t a professional choir, and it’s not as if I’m tone-deaf, but I was rarely comfortable with my voice. It got better over the course of the cycle—my range was stretched in both directions—but I couldn’t count on my voice locking into the groove. If I sat near stronger singers, I could glide in alongside them, but my voice on its own couldn’t be trusted.

Which really sucks. I could hear the way it should sound in my head, but what came out of my mouth was just. . . eh.

And that bummed me out. I want to be good, and I’m not.

So no more GRC for me, at least as a participant. I did say that maybe I’d try to rejoin again in the summer, but that’s a long shot. I don’t think my voice will get strong enough for me to say, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’

Of course, I did do this, and I’m glad I did. I hope to stay in touch with folks from the Choir, and I’ll happily sit in their audience.

But onstage again? I don’t think so.








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