If you were to ask me who is my favourite poet this week, I’d probably say Reggie Watts, who is not a poet but an improv comedian/musician. If you haven’t heard of him, there are a few things he does in his act: One is layering loops of his own beatboxy rhythms, vocal bits and soulful improvisational singing / rapping. He is really really good at this. Another is a wry deadpan standup routine that plays with meaninglessness (but delivered as if it were meaningful). He code-switches, sometimes mid-sentence, into a few different voices and languages. If he only did one of these things, it would be cool and impressive, but somehow the combination of these things with no clear transition from one to the other, makes it profound and artful, to me. And super hilarious. I kind of feel new patterns forming my brain as I watch him. He also seems like a totally decent and wonderful human being. Check him out.
“…So I kept writing through the summer, and in August the baby was born and I’d cradle him in my left arm while writing melodies at the piano with my right, and I said, let Osiris the keeper of the gates be my witness, other songwriters may go soft when they get to be parents but I am going to keep going all the way down into the inner darkness, it will set a good example for the baby, and besides, what am I going to do, suddenly start writing songs about cute things instead of songs about how to wrest cries of triumph from the screaming places? Please. May the baby grow up to spit in my face if I should pose that hard.”
– John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats
Oh boy, it’s been a while since this window has been opened. I guess I could blame big events in my life (I got married in August) but really that shouldn’t be an excuse. I’ll be kick -starting this up again. For now, a little review I did for one of my favorite bands.
For Low fans, and those interested in getting an intimate introduction to the band,a slightly abridged version of the fantastic documentary “You May Need a Murderer” is available for viewing on YouTube.
A while ago, a writing group I am part of, gave ourselves the assignment of making a mix-cd of “writerly” songs. I included in my mix, this song by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, two of my favorite songwriters. I wrote a bit about what I found interesting about the song. I’m seeing her tonight at the Vancouver Folk Festival so I thought I’d share what I had written.
What could be a sad little song about wandering around a city and catching an Idaho punk band play some small fruitless show, is lifted into a much larger and deeper context by what frames it. On April the 14th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln (The Great Emancipator) was assassinated. On that same date in 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg. And in 1935 (April 14th again) one of the worst dust bowl storms (Black Sunday) ever sent residents (“Okies” from Oklahoma) fleeing for other areas. It’s hard to see how these events relate to this story about seeing a punk show, other than it possibly occurring on that same date too. There are other connections I can make…but that it would just be my personal connections; the song generously allows a lot of space for that.
Gillian places herself very much in an old-timey folk tradition and makes the most of it within her lyrics by referencing the work of older musicians and historical events from different times. As well, many phrases connect to other songs on the album: “the staggers and the jags” appears in the album’s sprawling closer “I Dream A Highway”, and “I wish I played in a rock n’ roll band” are from “I Want to Sing that Rock N’ Roll.” I love that idea of stitching songs on a album together this way and wish more songwriters did it.
Other trivia: Casey Jones was a train driver who famously saved the lives of many passengers by remaining on his train as it crashed in order to slow it down, thus killing himself. He has been referenced in plenty of songs. The line “God Moves on the Water” comes from the old song by Blind Willie Johnson, which is about the Titanic.
Couldn’t think of a good rapture-y poem but here’s one of my favorite end of the world-ish songs.
The Mountain Goats and Kaki King – Black Pear Tree
I dug a hole and filled it up with compost
Rested on the cool grass for a minute
I saw the future in a dream last night
There’s nothing in it
I set the sapling in the hole
Started gently tapping down the dirt
I saw the future in a dream last night
Somebody’s gonna get hurt, somebody’s gonna get hurt
I hope it’s not me
But I suspect it’s going to have to be
I dug my heels in for the winter
And I waited for the snow
But something was stuck up in the clouds
Something was stuck up there
It couldn’t let go
And when its time came I could see it happen
Blossoms black and sweet as Texas crude
I saw the future flowering like a ruptured vessel
Somebody’s gonna get screwed
It won’t be me
Someday I am going to walk out of here free
These are the concert reviews I’ve done so far for a local online magazine Guttersnipe News. Much thanks to Shawn Conner for giving me the chance to geek out over music.
The Books at the Vogue Theatre, December 5th, 2010
Grinderman at the Commodore, November, 26th, 2010
Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Cairo Gang at the Vogue, August 14th, 2010
Vancouver Folk Music Festival (day 1) at Jericho Beach, July 16th, 2010
Kid Koala presents The Slew at the Commodore, June 29th, 2010
Matmos with So Percussion at the Biltmore, June 19th, 2010
The Mountain Goats at the Rickshaw, June 2nd, 2010