August 3, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
David Rivard impresses yet again with his new poetry collection Standoff.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Wise, graceful poems for all readers."
What I love about the singers I love is like what I love about the poets I love: the feeling of being inside something way larger than I usually am day-to-day, but still intimate, close at hand, something that turns my whole body into an ear. Music puts me in touch with my moods. What's listed here gets close to the moods I wrote Standoff out of—all of it comes from actual mixes that I made for myself and for friends during that time. Much of the book is about changes—my father's death at the heart of all of them, probably—endings that turn out not to be endings, that don't resolve anything, but that you can learn to love in time. Because the story is true. Because it sounds like it is.
"Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us"—Robert Plant & Alison Kraus
"Strange things are happening, every day." Only music will save us. This is a Sam Phillips song, channeling Rosetta Tharpe (who might have been channeling The Mississippi Sheiks—they weren't channeling anyone, just stating facts). There's a lot of bottom in this version. Feels like entrance music to some passion play, or a tale out of Chaucer, processional, lots of sway in the footsteps of whoever wrote it in any case—she's lost sight of her heart, misses herself most among friends, a common affliction in this day and age, but she still hears the righteous song in the dark. She's got a guide. Pray it's not delusion.
"The New World"—The Knitters
X in their "acoustic" season as The Knitters. I prefer this one to the original on 1983's "More Fun in the New World"—Ray Manzarek seemed to have squeezed John Doe and Exene's voices into a helium balloon there. John and Exene were the Nick and Nora Charles of American punk. It's the morning of an election day in America—any election you can think of—and they're on the sidewalk outside a bar and marking time on the Great Highway. "It was better before, before we voted for what's-his-name." Let's make it great again. Don't forget the Motor City. That's right. Don't forget the Motor City.
"God's Mighty Hand"—Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Has anyone ever made apocalyptic judgment sound as bouncy as this? I doubt it. Somewhere between an up-tempo shuffle and rockabilly gospel. Her guitar intro alone is worth the price of admission. She was a sight to behold—check her out on YouTube. Her Lord is not my lord necessarily, but she can make anyone a believer.
"April the 14th (Part 1)"—Gillian Welch
An iceberg strikes the Titanic, a rebel sympathizer assassinates Lincoln, and our heroine takes a stroll downtown to catch a "five band bill" at a local club, somewhere in the "red eye zone." The wooziness of this quiet hallucination is all in Dave Rawlings' guitar and Gillian's awesome, stoic sadness—it's like the two of them have had the great mysteries of the English and Scots ballads transmitted to them, all of that vast loneliness and vulnerable longing broadcast through a cell phone tower. It sounds like she's taking it all very personally. I can identify.
"A Street"—Leonard Cohen
Some people, all they have to do is talk to get the song sung. Leonard has something to say to one of the lovely used-to-be's: "we'll never be that drunk again." As you get older, time sharpens up the view, but if you're lucky the view can provide you with a bemused sense of self-irony that it would have been helpful to have earlier. I really like the little time change in the song, when he catches himself and says, "ok, the party's over, but I landed on my feet." The horns here are warm and sprightly, but not trying harder than they should.
"Big Shot"—Dr. John
There's a cartoony quality I like sometimes—like in Philip Guston's late paintings—and it has its funky reasons. I'm interested in people's fantasies, what's going on inside all the time, that rolling caravan of imaginary winning streaks and dalliances in high places, the revenges and consolations that really would change ev-uh-ry-theeng, if only. The five-second sample of 30's-style horns at the start and end are the comic frame. Still, the good Doctor's considerable groove contains much excellent advice: "I know you're holding, but hold it down/Don't oversell it, and you can hang around."
"Diamond in Your Mind"—Solomon Burke
The Bishop turns out to be a bodhisattva. A Tom Waits original (he has a charming live version with the Kronos Quartet, sung for the Dalai Lama at a benefit for Tibet). Solomon Burke accompanied here by his church organist, testifying about a whole bunch of strivers and sinners roaming the countryside. There are mint juleps for those of us who haven't reached enlightenment—but you really got to try hard to keep that diamond in your mind. Right here.
"She Knows"—Richard Manuel
Tenderness is an underrated quality in any art, maybe because it can't be faked. Richard Manuel seemed always to be able to tap into it, though there was a price to be paid. Somebody from a group called Bread wrote this, a piece of almost schmaltz redeemed live in a small club two months before Manuel died in the mid-80's. He outdoes his idol Ray Charles here, goes far beyond manner or style, and for 3:23 is in possession of all the belief he ever needed. She really does know.
"Tears of Rage (Take 3)"—Bob Dylan & the Band
Lear stalks the basement of a pink ranch house in the Catskills, his crown lost, toggling back and forth between recrimination and grievous wisdom—he feels betrayed, but there's as much self-betrayal and wonder in it as not. At the heart of the world, coming and going, is the drama that takes place between parents and children. "We carried you in our arms on Independence Day…." That's how it begins, almost a ritual invocation, the American version of a familiar story. The scratching of your name in sand. "But you just thought it was nothing more than a place for you to stand." With Richard Manuel moaning so sweetly, so sadly, in the background, twenty years before his end.
"Higgs Boson Blues"—Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
A simple blues trance at the crossroads of whoever we happen to be and history. History has something to teach us. It turns out that Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus might be looking for the same thing, but that they'll have to travel to the CERN supercollider to find it. That makes them like the rest of us. Maybe. The Seeds' version of recent history suggests we won't really find it there either.
"This Is the Girl"—Patti Smith
A song that Smith wrote for Amy Winehouse after she died. It marries a 60's girl group ballad sound to a lyric structure that sometimes feels inspired by the old British nursery rhyme, "This Is The House that Jack Built," with words both anodyne and bruised by Rimbaud's more gentle sister: "so much for cradling the smoldering bird." A good elegy isn't meant simply to ferry the dead to some sort of infinitely peaceful sleep, it's also designed to trouble the waters of the living. This is a great one.
"Little Birds"—Jolie Holland
East Texas meets the Niger delta, courtesy of a trippy, bubbling guitar line simultaneously ethereal and earthy. Sometimes it just helps to let your self grow small, and then smaller.
"The Windmills of Your Mind"—Paul Motian
What goes around comes around. Just so, even in the wide-open expanses of the mind. This is a song that's easy to ruin in so many ways—either you get the timing right or you don't. Paul Motian always got the timing right; he was a drummer in possession of the most subtle resources. Here, he's deep in the background, quietly putting angles on the rhythm that no one has ever heard before, while Bill Frissell wanders with his usual intuitiveness along the sidewalk and Petra Haden catches hold of a longing that's almost shocking for how simple and true it sounds. Kind of a talisman for living as an adult.
David Rivard and Standoff links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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