Running the Loping
These past few weeks (months even) have been marked by a slow lethargy, a casual disinterest in everything. It starts slowly, like most things, and you hardly notice it. It happens in isolated pockets of time, separated by periods of intense activity, at first. Then, it grows like a black hole, swallowing all that it comes in contact with. The boredom is infinite and there are no boundaries. In the midst of this cavernous hole, there is no real work, no real thought, just vacuous emptiness. The TV is on and the programming is mindless, inducing a stupor-like state of inactivity.
And then, walking down autumn street, leaves crunching underfoot, the air at a crisp cool clip. There is a soundtrack to this moving cinema, Joanna Newsom and her voice elf-like waif-like child-like faerie-like sings in riddles and metaphors and lines as beautiful as the autumn tree’s last burst of color before the sleep of winter. Never get so attached to a poem, You forget truth that lacks lyricism, Never draw so close to the heat, That you forget that you must eat… It is otherworldly, her voice the timbre of her harp, at times urgent, at times wondrous and others a quiet lull. There is a song she sings, it is a long song, Only Skin, she calls it. It is a rambling story, what it yearns for, I don’t know, what it means is not a concern. There are tales to be told: but always up the mountainside you’re clambering, groping blindly, hungry for anything: picking through your pocket linings – well, what is this? scrap of sassafras, eh Sisyphus? The sibilant sounds she makes strain against me and it is enough to close your eyes, sink into that sweet sleep of the safe. Joanna surrounds me like a cocoon and she is in my ears, my mouth, my eyes, my arms, my body, my groin, my calves.
And when I have just surrendered myself, there comes a moment so sublime, so extrasensory, so illuminating that I am tempted to believe in an all-knowing, all-loving God: a voice familiar accompanies Joanna for the last 2 minutes for her almost 17-minute song cycle. It is a voice that has transported me to places alien before. And in contrast to the pixie-voiced Newsom, it is a deep baritone, a low-slung, heavy leaden voice. It is a voice tinged with age, like old, strong Whiskey, left in a barrel for 20 years. Joanna Newsom was once with a man named Bill Callahan. Bill introduced Joanna to the music that led to her album, Ys, which holds the track Only Skin. And Callahan’s presence, slight as it may be, adds a touch so magic, it is enough to make me stop and forget everything. It is mystical.
Callahan has been a constant companion for a few years now. Whether as Smog or Bill Callahan, this man has brought out record after record of restrained brilliance, of quiet, thoughtful, black dark humor. And often there is sadness, sometimes loneliness and always poetry: So bury me in wood, And I will splinter, Bury me in stone, And I will quake, Bury me in water, And I will geyser, Bury me in fire, And I’m gonna phoenix or 37 push ups, in a winter-rate seaside motel, I’m going up again, Goin’ up to go down again…or even just the simple poetry of his album titles: Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. His earlier days were darker but now he’s hints at wisdom, at wordless knowledge. He could tell us about the river or we could just get in.
Joanna Newsom’s Only Skin ends and like Bill Callahan says, The air is the same as my body and I breathe my body inside out. I’m rescued.
Smog (Bill Callahan) – Say Valley Maker:
Joanna Newsom – En Gallop:
Download Joanna Newsom’s Only Skin here.