Blog on the Tracks
It's funny, a few people have asked me if I've heard the new album by St. Vincent - if I'll be reviewing it, if I'll dare even listen to it...
I guess the reason people have wondered is because I declared St. Vincent the worst interviewee I've ever had - and she was, in the sense that I was really looking forward to the interview. And it tanked. It was a dud. Maybe I wasn't on my game, sure. But she certainly wasn't. She admitted this too, after. I read the transcript of another interview she did that day. One she did directly before she spoke with me. In it, she frantically begs to have the rest of her interviews cancelled - says she'll pay someone whatever she can to not do any further interviews that day.
When I read that I felt sad. I felt really sad for her. We all have days when we don't want to do our job - we also, of course, have to step up and just do it, grin and bear it, lie back and think of England. Whatever. We had to brave-face our way through a lot of situations we'd perhaps prefer not to have to deal with, that's just life. Right? But to be at a point of stress and exhaustion where you simply don't want to just er, phone it in, that seems a lot place to be. The St. Vincent I talked to was no fun whatsoever. And I'd always detected a great spark of fun, a sharp wit and playfulness in the records. There was no reflection of this in the conversation I had. No spark at all. We flatlined pretty quickly in fact.
I had been a huge fan of the music Annie Clark had made as St. Vincent - right up until I spoke with her. When I wrote about the dud interview, the painful way she refused to answer a question properly, scoffing ridiculously at anything I asked, constantly sabotaging any real chance for a connection, I was hoping to put across the flip-side of the always plucky suggestion you get from others that you are "so lucky" to get to speak to famous musicians. It can be awful. It can kill your fandom. It can make you feel a little sad.
What I'm noticing more often than not recently - and it's really quite sad, a dumbing down - is that a lot of people don't understand the point of opinion-writing, of blogs and columns. People make allegations, via Facebook and Twitter that the writer is projecting, that the "article" is incorrect, or bias[ed] - they seem very upset at the notion that the opinion in the piece could possibly be different from their own. We are supposed to read opinion pieces and take them with a grain of salt, use them to further inform our opinion, reject them outright. Yes, sure you can bitch all you like about the opinions presented in any opinion writing but at least understand the process.
You don't have to go easy on the columnist/blogger at all - but you should understand that they're writing in such a way to present one side of things on purpose: their side. Apparently it confuses people even further if that writer decides to do something really daring in this day and age - like play devil's advocate. You have to, you see, always say what you mean, pin your colours to the wall - own your words, and you better not ever be trying anything smart-ass. People would, it seems, prefer you to also write up their opinion rather than your own. If you write up your own you'll only be mocked - they'll also remember all the bad stuff you wrote and hold that against you forever, never bothering to read any of the 'good' stuff.
Oh, I'm not talking about my own work by the way - it's been a mine-field this week negotiating all the column inches offered to Charlotte Dawson. Someone even suggested just yesterday that I write about it - offer my thoughts on cyber-bullying in the wake of Dawson's death. You know, because, I've obviously copped a bit over the years. No thanks - that's not a fun topic at all. And I have nothing much to say there.
Here's my thoughts on how this process works: you can't handle it, you move on. Do something else. My opinion is that depression is a serious and sensitive subject. That much is obvious I would hope. But all these self-serving hacks "weighing in" on it give me the sh*ts frankly. I'm not going to be one of those.
So this column that is not about Charlotte Dawson and is definitely not about cyber-bullying is about The Worst. Even though cyber-bullying probably is pretty much the worst. And Charlotte Dawson was often the worst too, remember. Until she died. Then she was just wonderful. And someone who struggled. No longer - at all - the worst.
Last night I saw BREL: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel (you can click there to read my review). It's a must-see show if you're in Wellington. It's part of the NZ Festival and it runs until Sunday. You might remember, recently I interviewed Jon Toogood and he discussed his role in the show. Toogood was wonderful - the whole cast was amazing. Julia Deans was perhaps the revelation - she should do more of this! - but Tama Waipara was extraordinary and Jennifer Ward-Lealand made no mistakes. You're hearing all those wonderful, amazing songs - it's a great production. And it's perfectly placed at The James Cabaret (I love that place!). It really works in that space. So I just wanted to mention that.
I get home from the show - all these songs about death and dying, profound and funny andribald, witty and mischievous. But death hangs heavy - and so as I'm processing all of that I hear that Paco de Lucia has died. Sad news. That guy was amazing. Discovering his music was one of those 'wow' moments for me. The jaw drops. You're stunned into submission. There was something about the way he hit at those strings, whipping that guitar to make shapes so precise, but so full of emotion.
He was 66.
I posted my short eulogy piece and someone made a comment; pointed out that we've got a lot of these deaths to come. Social media fills up with tributes to Charlotte Dawson and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Harold Ramis - another day, another dearly beloved being mourned by hundreds or thousands who never knew that person but took something from the work, felt something because of the work.
We either react because of a connection, or because of a sadness around the death: suicide, being taken too young, freak accident. We react. And then we move on. I don't write about every famous musician when they die - some didn't mean all that much to me. Some meant more to me than you could ever know, a few words doesn't mean anything at all. Often, nowadays, with everyone blogging - or at least micro-blogging, there are more tributes than it's ever possible to work through. I figure adding one more does nothing - I'm torn of course between merely adding to the noise and also having a daily deadline.
On Saturday night I reviewed Charles Bradley's show as part of the New Zealand Festival. I've struggled with Bradley's sound on record - his voice is busted. He can't sing. He shouts. It's a nice story of course, guy spends his whole life working hard, struggling to overcome poverty, toiling away, honing his James Brown act and then he gets "discovered". He's nearing pensioner-age when he is given the platform - sharp band behind him, albums to flog, out on the road and now visiting the world.
Audiences love that kind of a story. I liked the documentary about Charles Bradley I just couldn't tell you that the show was good. The band wasn't terrible - but it wasn't great. The horns were off, the guitarists superfluous, the rhythm section was pretty kick-ass though. I didn't rave about them in the review, more space and I would have given them the shout-out they deserved.
But, you have to wonder if the geeky white-guy guilt plays a part in the way this music is retrospectively celebrated and heard. In a way it was a bit like the Rodriguez debacle from last year all over again.
Hey, I kinda liked that doco about Rodriguez too, nice bit of creative storytelling, I enjoyed having a chat with Rodriguez, I love that Cold Fact album so much. Well, I did. I don't much feel like listening to it these days. That happens. It's been done to death now in the wake of the mild mania that greeted the film, the reissues, the tour, the "discovery" of Rodriguez.
The audience there was applauding the storyline. The back-story. That's how I saw it - and heard it. And I reckon it was the same, really, with Charles Bradley.
It's great when you are waiting a while for a new album from someone you admire: their past work has meant a lot to you and you're hoping for a return to the magic moments that hooked you in, not so much a repeat (of the sound) but a rekindling of that feel that attracted you to the music.
This year has already given me a great new Neil Finn album - his first solo album in 13 years, his best work in a long time. That was a nice surprise. Frankly, it could have gone either way. I've also really fallen for the new Suzanne Vega album, her first of new material in seven years.
These were nice surprises, sure. But it's another thing altogether when you weren't anticipating the album. That's a whole other level of excitement - to be given a new release from an artist you hadn't heard from in a while and for it to simply arrive. No fanfare, no hype, no chance for anticipation and build-up. The album arrives.
And then, even better, wham! It's brilliant!
Well that's happened this year for me with the brand new album by Neneh Cherry.
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