Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Acquired Taste for Wednesday

I don't know what this says about me, but I sometimes find myself having a not-terribly-strong opinion about people, places, and things that others consider obviously polarizing. Take Joanna Newsom, for instance. Some people think the harp-playing singer and songwriter's baroque imagination and imperfect voice are gifts from God, while others think she's the screeching, talentless result of allowing hipsters to shape popular taste. I happen to think she's both. (Well, not talentless; she seems to know her way around that harp, and how many people can say that these days?) Anyway, her voice can be supremely irritating, but it can also be surprisingly beautiful and nuanced. Her lyrics can be touching meditations on everyday emotions or ridiculous, fevered fables about mythical creatures that sound like they didn't make the cut for the last Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Here she is performing "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie," which I like, for the line "there are some mornings when the sky looks like a road" and other reasons:


Blogger Seb said...

If a sometimes-irritating voice were a mortal sin in music, no one would like Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Warren Zevon, or Bob Dylan. That's a critique I personally have no trouble shrugging off.

As for hipsters shaping popular culture, that sounds suspiciously like "what's wrong with kids today." Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at the evolution of American culture in the 20th century knows that hipsters are hardly alone in sometimes liking things that are peculiarly suited to their own tastes. Seriously: Lawrence Welk. Bob Newhart. Shirley Temple. I happen to think these people are brilliant, but some seem to think it is enough to say "oh, barf." Well, okay: but I have limited patience for people who aren't willing to push the boundaries of their own expectations even a little bit. My tastes are eclectic; I grew up thinking I hated country and rap, but I no longer speak (or think) so categorically about any particular musical genre. I think there's something to like anywhere.

I really liked this piece, John. Thanks for posting it.

I can't see the word 'cowrie' without thinking of this verse from Bruce Cockburn's "Use Me While You Can":

I've had breakfast in New Orleans,
Dinner in Timbuktu.
I've lived as a stranger in my own house, too.
Dark hand waves in lamplight,
Cowrie shell patterns change,
And nothing...will be the same...again.

Finally, a word of warning about Wednesdays - The All-Father Odin is a very tricky god, and no one to be trifled with.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Longrie said...

I'm a fan, personally. I don't listen to her every waking minute, and nearly as much as I did last year even, but every once in a while, iTunes will shuffled onto Peach, Plum, Pear and if no one is around, I get a little choked up. It's something I do with certain songs, though I'm not quite sure why. A lot of times a song, while not particularly sad in content, will get to me because I associate it so closely with a memory.

4:57 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Longrie said...

It might also have something to do, regarding "Peach, Plum, Pear," with my irrationally strong love for the harpsichord.

4:59 AM  

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