Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From the Tulkinghorn playlist

Watching Lucinda Williams, below, made me painfully aware of how completely detached I am from popular music these days -- especially compared to my time in New York, where, usually comped in by a friend who wrote for the Village Voice, I would go to actual clubs and hear cool bands and drink and smoke......

Anyway, in the interest of full, and probably embarrassing, disclosure, I'll embed here a video from Joanna Newsom, who is the only current star whose records I've bought in about five years (My apologies to any of my old friends who might see this and despair of what all that tutelage has wrought..)

Oh... stick with it: it's cool.


Generic said...

Lucinda sounds like "popular music" to you? You really are "detached."

Tulkinghorn said...

Her latest album opened at 9 on the Billboard Top 200 --

Sounds popular to me -- Basic bar blues of an especially high quality.

Seriously, though, she exemplifies what current popular music means to boomers and their sympathizers. Which is one reason why the best way to sell records is a story on All Things Considered, or an interview with Terry Gross.

You could look it up.

Generic said...

Neatly pigeon holed. Crisp market research. Am I still allowed to like her?

Generic said...

Seriously: I haven't listoned to much recent music, either, beyond Bollywood, for quite a long time, and I'm enjoying this latest spurt of interest greatly. Don't know enough about any kind of music to have a clue what demo anybody appeals to or what niche genre they should be filed under. That sort of reaction seems to be more about having done with something and setting it aside, a version of RR's tired old "that's just" response. As I am not even epsecially (or at all) musical, all I have to guide me are personal responses. With Williams it's a fairly delightful paradox of how such consistently, at times almost laugh-out-loud gloomy tunes can also be exhilerating and even mood-lifting. Not an old aesthetic paradox, I realize, so there's no need to recite chapter and verse on it, but still pretty cool when you're rediscovering it at the level of your nerve endings.

Tulkinghorn said...

Exactly what I was talking about, but from the 'nose pressed against the bakery window' perspective...

I miss that a lot.

And I'd like to hear more from everyone on this subject.

My earlier comment was by way of addressing your 'not popular' statement, not as dismissal of the genre.

Generic said...

I have been writing my first Weekly piece in about a decade (on IFFLA 8, which rules) so I haven't had a chance to listen to your offering. I will soon.

Feeling somewhat remote from critiicsm, I think I understand a bit how the "content developers" (the writers and musicians) feel about it. They live with these productions day in and day out, relishing the details, and intend them to be lived with by the people they're offered to in the audience. So if some dweeb comes along whose only goal seems to be to figure out which shoe box the stuff belongs in, so that he can put it on a shelf and forget about it, annoyance (at the very least) seems an apt response.

BTW, since all of the people I've been listening to are, at a minimum, in their late 50s, I'm not sure which window your nose is pressed against. The old folks's home?

Generic said...

To paraphrase: "A man listens to music, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man."

I would be very interested to read your account of what what the experience of listening to Newsom means to you. Not a description of its cleverness or coolness: I concede those qualities. It's an amazingly extended conceit. But what else is it? I want to know what happens to you as you listen to this and how it makes you feel.

Tulkinghorn said...

The combination of emotional directness with verbal and musical complexity... I hear a lot of things that I've never heard before.

Also you can't dance to it.

Also she bangs the shit out of that harp.

Generic said...

"Emotional directness," eh? How would you characterize the emotion that's being expressed? Have a sense of the situation that may have given rise to it? (First guess, there's some anger involved.)

Tulkinghorn said...

Grief at the loss of innocence and friendship. Also a lesson in astronomical terminology, half remembered from grammar school:

You taught me the names of the stars overhead, that I wrote down in my ledger --
Though all I knew of the rote universe were the Pleiades, loosed in December,
I promised you I'd set them to verse so I'd always remember

That the meteorite is the source of the light,
And the meteor's just what we see;
And the meteriod is stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee.

And the meteorite's just what causes the light,
and the meteor's how its preceived:
And the meteoroid's a bone thrown from the void, that lies quiet in offering to thee.


It's a guilty pleasure, I admit... But all mine.

Tulkinghorn said...

To be more precise, it's a song sung to her sister, about the conversations they had as children and about wishing that they could return.

The album version is arranged by the great Van Dyke Parks (who worked with Brian Wilson on Smile) and is sung with her sister.

Also my friend Jay and I used to listen to the Van Dyke Parks record Song Cycle in college and I miss that...

Generic said...

OK. I'm convinced. I was so put off by the superficial eccentricities that I didn't hear any of that. Partly I guess it depends on what audience you're playing for. Is Newsom sneaking up on people embarrassed by open emotionalism, phobic of sentimental; making it cool to choke back a tear?

Tulkinghorn said...

The newspaper of record puts it this way:

We know why you like Joanna Newsom. The reasons are online: one of every five people with positive thoughts about her, it seems, has recorded them digitally. That she’s original, expressive, fearless, beautiful, virtuosic, unaffected, overaffected. That she plays the harp. That she’s made the transition from garage-baroque to full folk-rock art song. That she likes words intemperately, tells jokes and wears prairie and bordello dresses.....

On Thursday, singing her long, nonrepeating songs without lyric sheets, she moved her mouth around restlessly, making a rictus and a moue, and sounding like four or five different people. Sometimes this grew tiresome. Sometimes it was quite brilliant. It might be improvising, or maybe not: in “Soft as Chalk,” when she landed down on the word “lawlessness” six different times, she consistently used her softest voice for the song’s most unsettling word.

And what is that song about? As far as I can tell, uncertainty in love and in life’s direction. In other words, everything. As with her search for a voice, she seems far from done looking for a sound or a subject. Why is it that compression is considered the best way to make a mark in the world? People like to talk about Joanna Newsom because she gives them a lot to talk about.