music

Firefly Light: Small Flames Burn It All

:::
am i your pussycat?
i know what’s new
it’s the oldest hat in the book
we can’t get fast enough to go backwards
to take a second look

~ Animals on WheelsSam Phillips
:::

On Monday, June 21st, Zoey and i went to see Sam Phillips in concert with Eszter Balint at The Ram’s Head in Annapolis. It was a warm night and we donned our best red and black clothing. i even dragged out the leather pants and the wavy hair for the evening.

Eszter Balint was an interesting creature – she had this smallish frame and short dark hair. Somewhat atonal, offkey and definitely offbeat. Apparently, she has a fledgling movie career now turned music career. She was in a few of Jim Jarmusch Films (Trees Lounge, Stranger Than Paradise). Originally from Hungary, she plays violin and sings bittersweet, semi-caustic lyrics. Nothing wildly abrasive, only that she makes you think of broken glass and Comet cleanser and that flophouse excuse of an apartment you stayed too long at, going rent poor in New York. She reminds you of that time you layed next to an abusive lover who could really shine on that rare occasion – the one you had to try desperately, daily to talk yourself out of. To leave would mean to slough off a few layers of skin, like escaping from a bear trap, that or you layed awake at night watching their chest rise and fall and their eyes flutter as you considered killing them while they slept. Eventually you get smart and write a bunch of songs and tell morbid jokes about it.

Then there is the sweet sting of unrequited love in Sam Phillips music. She is a self-described torch singer. “Torch” both for tortured and for carrying a torch for that person you love who does not love you back. She could be swaying in front of a big band, a delicate-voiced thrush, in a small 40’s club with round tables and plenty of bourbon. Her music is wholly transporting, minimalistic with inventive percussion, small upright piano and brilliant violin punctuated by swirling Beatle-esque melodies and sharp lyrics honed with such an economy of language that they sing like paging through old photos and love letters from that time you spent in Paris with a beautiful stranger. She stood like a porcelain figure all in black, her hips curved slightly back in straight pants, the hind quarters of a silky fox, bellted by a thin shimmer of ribbon, her blouse drooped forward, a bowl to catch the song and spill it out to the upturned mouths of the audience, a small black jacket revealing the small of her back, strong for the carry.

She told cleverly crafted stories, read letters, used a handheld tape recorder as a musical backdrop for one song and looked piercingly around at the audience through a small curtain of blunt-cut blonde hair. She was wonderfully described once as “part savant, part naif, and part waif – seductive by thirds” and her music like a “subtle insistence.” Her “voice is very cool and often icy but it’s also expressive and interesting.” Her “music is mostly austere and thoughtful but it’s also enjoyable and sometimes quite catchy.” Sam Phillips is full of cagey, romantic observations even in her speech . . .

After singing “Draw Man” which she described as a “strip tease in reverse” she looked out at us, addressing the women in the audience growling, “do you know what i mean?” Some murmurred, some laughed, some howled and catcalled.

Her pedigree is also impressive, having left the world of Christian music (under the given name Leslie Phillips) she teamed up with husband/producer T Bone Burnett (producer of O Brother Where Art Thou) for a total transformation and has recorded with Elvis Costello and Gillian Welch.

Zoey and i exchanged glances and tear-soaked faces at points in the evening. Somehow a firefly got into the venue and hovered above her, blinking pale green, a magical sort of completely right moment. We came away from a performance that Zoey described as “hot.” And it was . . . truly.  As hauntingly deep as dreams and desire, we left the world for awhile and came back with the simple advice that we “shouldn’t work so hard at love – just have fun.”

music, writing

lyrical substitution

Jeff Buckley looking through match flame . . .

I looked upon his face through flame
and knew the shape, the curve of mouth
the bottomless eyes,
the puncture wound
left by his name,
but still the ache like silken hands beneath
a sleeve that only brushed my cheek
and how can I love
so deep
a boy who sings
as though to weep
and gather all
my heart in knots
of red red silk,
to wring it white and colorless
and sting my taste against
the other strangers I have never met.

~ Andrea E. Janda

family, food, gardening, humor, music, technology, weather

Beyond the Harvest

“Now the woods will never tell
What sleeps beneath the trees
Or what’s buried ‘neath a rock
Or hiding in the leaves
‘Cause road kill has its seasons
Just like anything
It’s possums in the autumn
And it’s farm cats in the spring

Now a lady can’t do nothin’
Without folks’ tongues waggin’
Is this blood on the tree
Or is it autumn’s red blaze
When the ground’s soft for diggin’
And the rain will bring all this gloom
There’s nothing wrong with a lady
Drinking alone in her room.”

~ Murder in the Red Barn by Tom Waits

i’ve been thinking. And when i think like this – i go far out beyond fatalistic borders. It’s not a cruel darkness, just one that avoids phonecalls and voicemail and email and fax machines and blenders and microwaves – most forms of digital output and noise.

It’s the kind of thinking that makes you sit in front of sci-fi films for half the afternoon with a bottle of wine, contemplating alternate futures and ultimately deciding there’s no blindingly beautiful promise, no achieved perfection, no immortality, no homogenized version of gender, no egalitarian, peaceful rule meant to blanket the world, no disembodied intelligence – only the regression to a base understanding of what makes one truly human and sentient and in it’s crude but lovely way . . . alive. For a spell.

Never do you grapple with what a production this whole thing is until you do something as simple as say, cooking a small breakfast for yourself. Or more eating and appreciating food. You get out a pan. Not clay, not tin, but some poly-cluster creation with a gleaming handle and Teflon coating bearing a brand name recognizing a long-dead, strong sounding Norse god. A pat of butter to grease it with. No. Not butter, not taken from a cow, churned for hours in wood cut from a pine or hickory tree. Well, not even butter – margarine. And from an evenly sprayed dispenser. You turn on the fire. No. The stovetop. No, not even that – an electrified flat black surface with the pan placed over the approximate round etched size of your pan. It’s hot because water skitters off the surface so you add your egg. From a carton, from some far away chicken you never fed or robbed of its children from under the warm straw nest while it protested. It whitens, sunny side up you cover it to steam and cook faster. And while you wait . . . you get two slices of bread.  Oat Nut. Two things. Several really. Yeast you didn’t produce, oat flour you never milled, nuts you never grew or shelled or chopped. And you turn them into toast in the four-slotted drawer that pulls out of a recess in the wall. And while you wait . . . you’re out of orange juice,  a fruit which you definitely did not grow in this northern climate but you do have apple cider, in a plastic container from a towering orchard you never walked. Somewhere before all of this, you started a pot of coffee.  Not on a kettle nor pressed, but all orchestrated by one machine whose compartments allow for whole beans you never grew under a hot sun or carried by donkey pack up a steep ravine and no need for paper or filters, the mesh basket strains the ground coffee and the receptacle purifies the water of all the chemicals you added to kill the previous undesirable batch you added before which you did not take from the riverbank or pump from underground. And so onto the glass plate you never saw baked with the margarined egg and the oatnut toast and into the deep mug  with the coffee and so to add sugar you never knew as brown cane once harvested by slaves now white and bleached into angelic recognition and something to cream it with . . . some milk.  You’re out of milk.  No cow for that i’m afraid but never you worry, powdered milk to add filtered water to in a cup with measured lines and the unused rest – down the drain because it’s not palatable enough and you’ll never use it in cereal with a glossy protective varnish or cookies with chocolate which is another story altogether. And this is 10 minute preparation. Just breakfast of 2 foods and two beverages, plus condiment. Nothing farmed, all stored in various airtight and plastic refrigeration.

And what’s this to do with the season of harvest and the impending winter? Everything, had you need of preserves and jellies and canning and warm storage and feed for animals. But don’t fret –there’s a 24-hour mega-store when you run out of toilet paper and sundries. Even some carrots for the horses. Hunting season consists for some of avoiding the sprinting deer across the four-lane highway – and you never thought you’d see them here. Possums are as plentiful as pets and just as many wasted, lost and flattened. And all that processed specialty cat chow they’re missing out on.

No. i’m not really disgusted. Not entirely sarcastic. Just incredibly appreciative (and occasionally fearful) of the labor and death that comes from bounty.

And please . . .

don’t ask me about my plans for Thanksgiving.