Saturday, 6 July 2013

shuttle 20: singing (faith & peaches)


'A song ain't nothin' in the world but a story just wrote with music to it' (Hank Williams, 1952)
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Rebecca Solnit: - ' ... there is no adequate response in our vernacular to this landscape, nothing can touch the authenticity around it - thus the neon of Vegas, the motels of Flagstaff, the diners of Elko, the pink flamingos on the banks of a river named after a German who never saw it [the Humboldt].

At the most breathtaking landscapes of the West, people usually say something profoundly banal or trivial, not so much because they are not impressed, but because they know their words can't measure up to it, and it is more respectful not to try. In some way, banality becomes a refuge from fear of the sublime, overwhelming scale of the land.

Only the splenetics of country music seems to describe it: The eternal story of country songs is about someone who took refuge in the house of love, only the house fell apart, and so the singer is lost in the vastness again, and alone. Never mind their obsessive boy-girl front - they're songs about the pain of freedom, the loneliness of independence, about aftermath, irretrievable loss, fall from grace. If you don't believe the lyrics, the violins and guitars will tell you so.

Like pastoral poetry, country music (before positive thinking ruined it in recent years) is usually about the past, though the past seen more through bitterness than pastoral nostalgia. The singer is leaving, being left, or looking back, and the lyrics are full of midnight trains and lost highways, rambling men, walking after midnight, coming back to see their sweetheart wed another. A passionate love for geography is buried in all this bile, so that the songs of loss are rich too, rich in place names, travels, and atmospheres ...

The basic gesture of American society is a kind of atomisation, an expansion into what was always imagined as an expanding universe. That expansion was tragic in all Old World narratives, and America was settled by outcasts for whom tragedy became opportunity. Even framed as 'progress' and 'manifest destiny', that gesture is one of loneliness, and of conflict resolved by space rather than society - room to swing your arm. Tragedy, our ability to fall out of society and into the landscape, has been the content of American optimism'.

Extract from Rebecca Solnit, 'The Name of the Snake', in Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 199, 184-5
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For today's driving music, the  14-minute looping heartbeat and visionary minimalism of Gillian Welch's 'I Dream A Highway' (from Time: The Revelator), listen here. For lyrics, see here

Gillian Welch: - 'Our palette is so minimal. We have four microphones, two voices and two guitars. That's how we make records and it freaks people out. I've come to believe that there's this other element, which is the sum of its parts - things like the air, the room, the atmosphere. These things enable us to make these little landscapes and soundscapes, which is interesting to us. Once your frame of reference adjusts to the fact that there's so little going on, the music can become very rich and panoramic, at least that's the hope'.

On driving across the USA: 'We were watching the road signs go by, which is a beautiful lesson in American poetry. You forget how beautiful the place names and the words are that you see when you're driving around. It's a great crash course in language'.

On her diverse audience: 'Those guys [hippies, country folk, hardcore rock & punk enthusiasts] say ours is the only folk music because they see the kind of gnarly, dark shit in there ... We sent the lyrics for this record [The Harrow and the Harvest] to the artist who did the cover - he's a metal artist, quite well known, and his covers usually have decomposing skulls and stuff, and he was like, "Man, this shit is dark!"'
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Photographs below: William Egglestone

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