Hey hey mama, what are you sayin' to me

Dear friends,

Robert Wyatt sings like the holy ghost. He has a high, fragile voice that ties ribbons around your heart with its plaintiveness. So beautiful, so spectral and so fucking strange. I've been putting this song of his that I labeled "Mystery Item"* on several mixes this past year. It's labeled as such 'cause I downloaded it on my mom's computer when I was going through paroxysms of Wyatt one winter and I failed to write down the title and then her computer died. No matter, the song lives on. It's got what sounds like the crappiest underwater guitar over underwater guitar strumming with Wyatt going on and on in his haunted trumpet-like tenor about birds leaving the nest and bleeding hearts. Wyatt (this is the part with the big disclaimer because guaranteed 82% percent of what I write about bands/musicians will be nothing but FICTION) was the vocalist/drummer in Soft Machine, one of those seminal 60's jazz prog bands that some know-it-all like me always brings up when he/she wants to prove just how much more he knows about music than you. It happens. Big dick contests abound in all walks of life.

Prior to Soft Machine, Wyatt was in the ridiculously named group, The Wilde Flowers (featuring a young singer named Kevin Ayers). After they disbanded and/or morphed into Soft Mmachine (depending on which rock historian you trust - I don't), they toured for a bit then went on hiatus long enough for Wyatt to record a solo demo. This demo includes a song called Slow Walkin' Talk that features Jimi Hendrix on bass. Wait. Let me type that again. Jimi Hendrix on bass?!?!?!? This brought confusion to Longcomings Aerie. "Why isn't Jimi Hendrix playing guitar?" The Monkey opined archly. To which I replied, "Eh, I don't hear any guitar at all on this track. It's just bass, drum, crazy organ and vocal. Which, you know, seems fair...?" Fair or unfair, Slow Walkin' Talk is a sly blues shuffle that combines Hendrix's bass rip-age and Wyatt's hilariously diffident vocal to suuu-weet effect. "Who, me? Amazing? (yawn) Well. Yes." That kinda vocal. Despite this dizzying solo development, Soft Machine reformed and made another million albums, even after Wyatt left the group. Personally, I approach Soft Machine with much trepidation because the words "jazz fusion rock" kinda make me squirrrm. Nevertheless, I'm still trying to find my way in. When I do, when I find the right song, I'll have something to say about them.

Shortly after leaving Soft Machine and on the brink of recording a solo album, Wyatt fell out of a window at a party and was paralyzed from the waist down. A few months after he got out of the hospital, he recorded and released an unusual but compelling album called Rock Bottom that after a few late night listens lodges itself in your head like dream fragments suddenly remembered. He's been making albums consistently since then, touching mostly political subjects, doing amazing re-interpretations of other people's songs (Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, Peter Gabriel's Biko, The Monkees' I'm a Believer and my personal fave, Chic's At Last I Am Free) and generally, playing well with others (Submarine off of Bjork's Medulla).

I think that it's safe to say that Wyatt will be a polarizing person to investigate. His songs are so barren that you may have difficulty adjusting. Where's the guitarmies, the mega percussion, the band blanket? You may find it boring and dated and vaguely disconcerting and yes, spooky. I will not mislead you or tell you lies. All those things are true.

I like to listen to Wyatt as I lie in bed, in the dark, so that all his songs can sound like whispered prayers. In the music as church way of life, this is my midnight mass. Where I'm not alone in wonder. Where I can almost feel grace.

Love, D

Songs to Seek: Slow Walkin' Talk, Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road, Shipbuilding, Submarine (Medulla/Bjork), Slipping Slowly* (North Marine Drive/Ben Watt & Robert Wyatt)

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Blogger george said...

Hmmm, I just finished my post on Arthur Russell and after reading yours on Robert Wyatt I feel they may have been cut from the same cloth. I've always been curious about him. Is there a single album you can recommend or am I gonna have to badger you for a mix?

11:19 AM, March 11, 2005  
Blogger d said...

I think "rock bottom" is a pretty good place to start, though I would recommend listening to the real audio clips provided by amazon or the itunes clips just so you know the deep, deep waters you're getting into. the ben watt/robert wyatt album (from '83?) is really great. very simple as per his usual numbers but watt's contributions keep wyatt's more space jazz tendencies in check.

speaking of departure points, which song would you recommend for arthur russell?

12:22 PM, March 11, 2005  
Blogger tina said...

Hmmm, I am now interested in both. Can limewire supply me with some stuff or can I beg for mixes?

2:10 PM, March 11, 2005  

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