Saturday, February 7, 2009

You Can't Shoot the Fiddler in the Middle of the Show

Finally got around to opening, reading, and, thanks to a longish drive to and from a witch convention, listening to the two CDs of the Oxford American music issue. You get a lot for your money with that thing, all kinds of short essays of all types, at least one on each tune, plus usually a story, some poems, and a couple of features. The piece on Elton and Betty White, who I am so happy to now know about, had me shouting out bits aloud to DH. Photo of Arthur Lee looking like a bodhisattva (and sad story of his last days). Very very good piece on "Lawson and Four More" that explores the question of where you draw the line on what you call an authentic outsider--a topic this magazine should take on in every last issue, because it's sticky and endemic to southern culture nowadays and certainly to this magazine--through taking apart a piece of music by skilled players that was intentionally produced to "sound garage." It's got a knockout punchline, in that the band evolved into Big Star (and the ethereal "For You" is on the second disk, btw).

But then there are the blaps and tweets, like the dreadfully earnest Peter Guralnick recycling his stuff on Jerry Lee (just listen to the song) and a multi-page pant about Neko Case, in which the author works the conceit of spending a day with the band to the near death of all concerned, even the poor publicists'. It starts with some line about remembering watching a woman licking a strawberry ice-cream cone, and just gets worse; wank, wank, McSweeney-flavored wank for six freaking pages. I sure hope y'all didn't pay this guy by the word.

Too many of the women artists I hear now sound like they've been processed to fit in as the soundtrack to the obligatory emo montage at the end of a network drama--a little acoustic strum, a little trebly warble about staying strong when all feels bleak. Or maybe they're all the same person. And then I think of artists like Lynn Blakey and Lori Carson not getting their due and I'm all like, I'm just going to listen to the Stylistics again. I know it's not a bad thing to have your song on an emo montage, hell, it happened to Joni Mitchell and the cash is not unwelcome, but you know.

So I had little hope for the song itself, even though I'm sure my husband has played me the album it's off before, and plenty of New Pornographers as well. He's always waving the Latest Things under my nose, but my tastes are so particular and peculiar that I can't settle and listen for long; I have no patience unless it knocks me out and forces me into it. I'm sure like many others she's been part of all kinds of cool kids' bands that I haven't bothered checking out, so just STOP, OK? What I'm saying is I like this one song, if that's allowed? And that I had that wonderful experience of having my assumptions trashed?

In the first 30 seconds or so, I'm wondering, did Wanda Jackson ever record with Lee Hazelwood? Same rodeo-rope phrasing, just yelping it out. Showdown and tumbleweed guitar, her own, I hear, and those metaphysical lyrics, with just enough specificity thrown in to be mysterious:

Compared to some, I've been around
But I really tried so hard--
That echo chorus lied to me with its "hold on,
"Hold on hold on hold on..."
In the end I was the mean girl
Or somebody's in-between girl
Now it's the devil that I love.
And it's as funny as real love.
I leave the party at 3 a.m.,
Alone, thank god,
With a valium from the bride.
It's the devil that I love.

I played it over and over, missed my exit, dipped down to cross the Patuxent and looked out at the ice breaking, played it again, and played it again.

Once I got home, DH enthusiastically played me the rest of the album it's off, salivating about a new one she's got coming out, but nothing grabbed me the same way. I'll check out her second, which is supposed to be more country.

So there's MY wank. And they say women take longer. To its credit, OxAm also has a shorter piece on Case by Greil Marcus, call it a wan. The best of his take on "Hold On Hold On"--"driving fast around the turns." Maybe we all shoulda just left it at that.

And I'm rooting for Anthony Hamilton in the Grammies.

Photo: Was delighted to find one of her with guitar instead of just looking fetching, but lord, read that cover line, oh you poor thing to have to listen to that kind of drivel all the livelong day. Does put one in mind of Yates' "It's certain that fine women eat a crazy salad with their meat."

Headline: It's got a good Clarence Gatemouth Brown song on it, too. No fiddle players were harmed during this production.


Anonymous said...

Thank God someone else thinks McSweeney's is wank. Packaged nice, sure, but wank nonetheless. And Peter G. and Greil M. -- wank. That Greil M. book "The Old Weird America" about Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes" should have been can't miss. Bile. I wouldn't read it on a Kindle, but I'd put it on top of some kindling. Neko Case is no Julie Miller, whose "Broken Things" needs listeners. . . and who knew, CC, you were winding down country roads? Here's another original oldie but goodie from yours truly:

I used to have a ducktail curl
You used to be such a pretty little girl
Now I don't have a hair on my head
and you're in the cemetary
deader than dead
Angeline, Angeline
you ran away crying
there's really no sense to your dying
You were the one that I loved the best
Instead you stuck a kitchen knife in your chest

You used to drive the other boys wild
you liked me best 'cuz I wanted a child
Then one day you saw me kissing Peggy Sue
A little bit harder than I ever kissed you
Angeline, Angeline
you ran away crying
there's really no sense to your dying
You were the one that I loved the best
Instead you stuck a kitchen knife in your chest

-- J.S.

Maria Padhila said...

True love bleeds. Country was my guilty secret from the peegee girlhood. But you're the one who got me listening to Wynonna. How's the new one? (I'm not buying it or anything this year, but...vicarious.)