Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

I keep hoping for the best. Friends – otherwise kind, intelligent human beings – love Joanna Newsom. “She’s a poet,” they tell me. “She writes beautifully.” They swoon over every plucked harp string, every alliterative allusion to laudable literature. And so I listen. Joanna has a new album out today called Have One On Me. In reality, one can have three on her, for lo, this is a triple album, more than two hours of poetry.

In the past, I’ve had a couple problems with Joanna. One, she sounds like Olive Oyl, Popeye’s beloved. It’s a substantial handicap, but it’s not insurmountable. Goofy Victoria Williams also sounds like Olive Oyl, and I like Victoria, mainly because she’s genuinely wacky and because she doesn’t take herself particularly seriously. Two, the poetry. Yeah, I know. Joanna’s a serious artist, and an aversion to her poetry is some fairly damning evidence that this man ain’t got no cultchah. Still, I struggle. There is, for instance, this:

dig a little hole, not three inches round
spit your pit in the hole in the ground
weep upon the spot for the starving of me!
till up grow a fine young cherry tree

This results in the mirth of me! I can’t help it. I’m sorry, friends.

“You need to try again,” my friends tell me. “You haven’t given her a fair chance.” Okay. They tell me that this new album is more approachable, less precocious. The childlike shriek is gone, and the lyrics are more straightforward. And so I listened. Here, for instance, are the lyrics to the title track:

From the courtyard, I floated in
and watched it go down.
Heard the cup drop;
thought, "Well,
that's why they keep them around.
"The blackguard sat hard, down,
with no head on him now,
and I felt so bad,
cause I didn't know how
to feel bad enough
to make him proud.

By the time you read this,
I will be so far away.
Daddy longlegs, how in the world
am I to be expected to stay?
In the night--
in the night, you may hear me call
Pa, stay your hand
and steel your resolve.
Stay where you are,
so long and tall.

Here's Lola--ta da!--to do
her famous Spider Dance for you!
Lighten up your pockets!
Shake her skirts and scatter, there,
a shrieking, six-legged millionaire
with a blight in his sockets.

Miss Montez,
the Countess of Lansfeld,
appealed to the King of Bavaria,
saying, "Pretty papa,
if you are my friend--
mister daddy longlegs, they are at it again!--
Can I see you?"

Poor Lola! A tarantula's mounting
Countess Lansfeld's handsome brassiere,
while they all cheer.
And the old king fell from grace,
while Lola fled,
To save face and her career

You caught a fly, floating by,
Wait for him to drown in the dust;
drown in the dust of other flies,
whereby the machine is run,
and the deed is done.
Heaven has no word
for the way you and your friends
have treated poor Louis.
May god save your poor soul, Lola.
(But there is nothing I adore,
apart from that whore's black heart.)

Well, doesn't that just beat all!
Miss Gilbert,
called to Castlemaine
by the silver dollar and the gold glitter!
Well, I've seen lots,
but never, in a million years,
would think to see you, here.

Though the long road
begins and ends with you,
I cannot seem to make amends
with you, Louis.
When we go out,
they're bound to see you with me.

At night, I walk in the park,
with a whip,
between the lines
of the whispering Jesuits,
who are poisoning you against me.
There's a big black spider
hanging over my door.
Can't go anywhere, anymore.
Tell me, are you with me?

I called to you, several times,
while the change took place
and then arrived, all night,
and I died.
But all these songs,
when you and I are long gone,
will carry on.
Mud in your eye.

You asked my hand,
hired a band.
"In your heart is all that you need;
ask and you will receive," it is said.
I threw my bouquet,
and I knocked 'em dead.

Bottle of white, bottle of red.
Helpless as a child,
when you held me in your arms,
and I knew that no other
could ever love me as you loved.
But help me! I'm leaving!

I remember everything,
down to the sound of you shaving--
the scrape of your razor,
the dully-abrading black hair
that remained
when you clutched at me,
that night I came upstairs, half-dead,
and, in your kindness,
you put me straightaway
in the cupboard,
with a bottle of champagne,
and then, later, on a train.

It was dark out, I was half-dead.
I saw a star fall into the sky,
like a chunk of thrown coal,
as if god himself spat
like a cornered rat.

I really want you to do this for me,
will you have one on me?

It was dark; I was drunk and half-dead,
and we slept, knocking heads,
sitting up in the star-smoking air,
knocking heads like buoys.

Don't you worry for me!
Have one on me!

Meanwhile, I will raise my own glass
to how you made me fast
and expendable,
and I will drink to your excellent health,
and your cruelty.
Will you have one on me?

--helpless as a child,
when you held me in your arms,
and I knew that no other
could ever love me--

From the courtyard, I floated in
and watched it go down.
Heard the cup drop;
thought, "Well, that's why
they keep them around."
The blackguard sat hard, down,
with no head on him now,
and I felt so bad,
cause I didn't know how
to feel bad enough
to make him proud.

Well daddy longlegs, are you?
Daddy longlegs, are you?
Daddy longlegs, are you proud?

Ah. And now I see. At last, after much time has passed, I am converted. And in my newfound ardor, I offer a review of Joanna’s new album in the form of a poem, my own humble offering to she who is better than me, or thee, Louis.

For Joanna, A Lachrymose Lament

From the basement
The sump pump gave out.
Drowned, and gave no sound
The February snow, upon the ground
Melted did not.
I listened to Joanna’s album.

By the time I listen to all three CDs
‘Twill be afternoon
The voice, a gentler croon
Doth assuage my fears
The rent, still in arrears
Will not be paid to you, Montesquieu!

Who am I?
You have wronged me, O Henry,
Just as you did when we
Sailed to Capri, you with your sari,
(Whose sari now?)
I with my sarongs,
I’m sorry, back to the songs.

I remember everything,
And nothing!
The sound of your snoring
The nights of your whoring
And me, sadly imploring
For you to shit or get off the pot!
We were sailing a lot,
In those days.
Buoys will be buoys.

Who am I?
Am I real at all?
I drift in the spell of your siren call
Myrmidons and cupcakes
Visigoths and clambakes!
I forget my identity
All, all too easily
But I bet I’m a man
And so is Lola
L-O-L-A Lola!

Meanwhile, I will change the CD
Get up, drink to your excellent health,
Remember Myrna, Merlot, Massachusetts,
And the magnificent musk of marinated mutton.

For the love of God, Montresor!
Shiver me timbers
The fire’s bright embers
Have faded in the fireplace!
‘Tis now time for the showering of me
For off to work I must be
But a magical musical time was had by all
And by all I mean me
And Lola.


Brother-in-law Bill said...

Do you think if you played your Kinks albums at 45 RPM they would sound like Olive Oyl? Sorry.

cnb said...

That is a great review. Wonderful.

Zena and Joshua said...

Best. Review. I've ever read.

Anonymous said...

Ha. Really great - but please never review one of my records!:)

MSK said...

Mark, I think AMC needs to cover that song of Joanna's.

Zena and Joshua said...

You got torn apart at Paste, unfortunately. Commenters don't appreciate the style.

I sincerely loved this review and I'm going to stand by my convictions. Music, to a certain extent, is a matter of taste, and you're entitled to your (flowery) opinions.

I have this album on repeat in my head and have for a few weeks. I don't think it's going to leave anytime soon. Our tastes must differ slightly because I think it's the best thing since fairy bread. And that's fancy for what a f'n great, overblown, ambitious, beautiful cowlick of an album this is.

Andy Whitman said...

Z and J, there are many people who love Joanna Newsom, so it's neither surprising nor bothersome that people disagree with me.

I did shake my head at a couple of those comments on the Paste site. Again, it's fine if people disagree. It was a little more worrisome when I realized that they didn't recognize that the first set of lyrics were from Joanna, and the second set were from me. I can't really help people address reading comprehension issues.