Don't you wish you'd never met her

Dear friends,

1. Writing one of those "about me" things for My Space or Friendster makes me batty because how could I possibly list all the music I like? Or all the movies I like? If I try to cram them all in at once I'm pretty much outing myself as an old biddy with ten thousand cats and a vast collection of tiny ceramic shoes. So I try and change it up now and again. I bring this up 'cause Contributor Gill read the favorite music list on My Space and said "Blossom Dearie? YOU like blossom dearie?" And the answer was YES. Yes, I do like Blossom Dearie. She's not necessarily your parent's jazz chanteuse. In my mind, Dearie's not too far away from other girlishly voiced indie singers, albeit one playing jazz. Plus the piano playing! Miles Davis opined once that she was his favorite among jazz musicians which must mean something considering that he wasn't too forthcoming with the compliments.

As an interpreter, she's soft, tentative and not showy. She has a song called Some Other Time where she sings "Oh well.." like a beautiful sigh, you can imagine the shrug of shoulders under a cardigan. Any other singer would've turned that bit into a long extended show-stopping note hold of "Oh weeeeeeeeeeeell", which would have nothing to do with the song but would be applauded vocally. Boo, I say. Ms Dearie is not interested in being more than a whisper, her piano playing does the tougher work. She's the observer. No matter how happy or sad the vocal, she always maintains this air of detachment. Not cool, like Peggy Lee (who's fab and this is no knock) but a cerebral cool, a true diarist's cool. She seems aware that the feelings she's singing about will certainly change and but rather than being tragic about it, she goes for bittersweet.

Confession time: I was 19 when I first bought a Blossom Dearie cd and I bought it 'cause I liked the cover. I thought it looked cute and twee* and it turns out the music inside was pretty cute and twee in it's own fluffy kitten way. At the time, I was still in the fevered, full clutches of my decades-long Ella Fitzgerald obsession so when I first heard Dearie's vocals I was disappointed at how unadorned they were. In time, I came to appreciate their simplicity.

You can approach her two ways, you can look up the new Verve Remixed series which has The Brazilian Girls remixing her version of Cole Porter's Just One Of Those Things. This remix isn't the hottest track ever but it does successfully illustrate how her sparse delivery doesn't appear dated when juxtaposed with sampled beats. OR you can try and find her Brazil-influenced, girly drink hazy What Time Is It Now?. Sinuous Bossa Nova posing as serious "Where is this relationship going?" query.

2. I love Polly Jean Harvey so much that I'm terrified that if I ever met her I would do something even more profoundly stupid than what I usually do when I meet famous rock stars. There might be babbling involved. And possibly tears. or fainting. Yes, I might turn into one of those weeping Japanese teenage girls that are mandatory for all rock documentaries.

I bought Rid Of Me when it came out 'cause it featured prominently in the the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll** that year and her photo intrigued me. I looked at the picture and wondered at how a woman with such intense eyebrows could have a record deal. 'Cause Liz Phair might have been singing about "shocking" female things but she was still a pretty, aerobicsized girly girl with big blue eyes to go with her toned bod. Polly Jean looked like a paper-mache head on a stick; giant eyes, lips, nose balanced on a terrifyingly thin frame. Stereotypical sex appeal was not part of the sell. Intriguing! Plus, she was intense, played her own guitar, she did a weirdo voodoo chant cover of Wang Dang Doodle and Don van Vliet was her favorite artist. I had to find out for myself.

On first listen, I hated Rid Of Me. Passionately. I was so angry 'cause I had no money that year and this was my purchase for the month AND it was basically...METAL! At least that's what I thought at the time. Out of sheer fury at myself for having relied on The Voice (which, coincidentally, I haven't since but not because of that incident), I made myself listen to it every day, at least a few times. listen to it. Inward groan. Listen to it. Outward scream. Etc...

I don't know how or when it happened but somewhere in that month I became violently attached to that record. I came to adore it more than anything I had in my collection. And that hasn't happened to me since. Something about the guitar playing, the deliberate crunch of it. Polly Jean's fearless vocal out on a limb-ness. If iPod's existed back then, the rock version of Man-Size would be most frequently played, followed closely by Rid Of Me. Got my leather boots on? Nice one.

But this isn't about then, 'cause I could go on and on unintelligibly about Harvey's output for quite some time, I wanted to babble about two interesting songs this lady has her mitts on.

First, there's The Mystery of Love written by Harvey for Marianne Faithfull for her new album, Before The Poison (which interestingly, includes not just several Harvey compositions but some from her former paramour and male doppelganger, Nick Cave. boy! I remember fan-girling myself into a frenzy at the thought of them meeting, mating and birthing an entire brood of vampiric children with fantastically deep voices. Then when they actually did get together, I was completely spooked. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea. Try and find the video for their first collaboration, Henry Lee off of Cave's Murder Ballads. They sing moonily to each other and it's so. Freaking. Creepy.). The Mystery Of Love sounds like a Harvey song; it has the rolling, relentless guitar groove. While the melody is seemingly sung by an ancient tree spirit aka Faithfull instead, it does little to erase the author's stylistic stamp.

Secondly, there's Hit The City from Mark Lanegan's really quite good album from last year, Bubblegum. For some reason, I'd never been entirely convinced that Lanegan exists as a frontman. He's there but his vocals seem so removed as if echoing from a distant grunge wasteland. Consequently, he's never made an impression on me but he won me over with this album and particularly, this track. He actually seems to be enjoying himself as he coasts along supported by the deluxe backup vocals of Harvey. Perfect for a sunglass sportin' passenger ride in someone else's car.

3. y'know that rainy day activity where you take a piece of paper & someone draws something in the first part, folds, passes it, someone continues the drawing without seeing the previous effort & so on until the page is filled? in the end the picture itself usually winds up being strangely simpatico. this reminds me of the song going steady by bearsuit. like different panels on an impromptu drawing, the entire tune is experimental without being distancing just fold upon fold adding up to one rollicking theme. I've written about da bears before. they are on my space now. if you belong to that particular organization, add them.

Love, D

* Sometimes purchasing albums for the cover alone can prove inspired, in my case: the wedding present/george best, new order/power, corruption & lies, the kinks/face to face (re-issue). sometimes this does not work, as was the case with brit band modesty blaise (which is also the name of a ridiculous but fun 60's proto-austin powers movie with monica vitti & terence stamp as campy clotheshorses/spies). & no, I don't remember the name of the album, something like...the fabulous world of modesty blaise?

** for some reason though, the voice decided to lump her into angry lesbian music. interesting. maybe they were thrown by the whole pronoun thing. on a side note, boy does it irritate me when people do covers & change pronouns. can't you just BE the voice of the song? ARGH!

songs to seek: some other time/blossom dearie, just one of those things/blossom dearie (remixed by the brazilian girls), what time is it now?/blossom dearie, rid of me/pj harvey, man-size/pj harvey, mystery of love/marianne faithfull, hit the city/mark lanegan, going steady/bearsuit

albums to seek: blossom dearie/blossom dearie sings the songs of comden & green, pj harvey/rid of me, mark lanegan/bubblegum

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Anonymous Tina said...

I will now be listening to Rid of Me on the way back home. Thanks chica.

As for Faithful's new album "My Friends Have" is another good song cowritten with Harvey and PJ plays guitar. It's a bit creepy how similar it is to a PJ Harvey song, but good. Also amazon is offering that song as a free download: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006Z3DDA/qid=1115238475/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/102-9679934-6778546


4:29 PM, May 04, 2005  
Anonymous Tina said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:29 PM, May 04, 2005  
Anonymous mike said...

BLossom Dearie was recommended to me years ago by someone who knew of my Alison Statton/Young Marble Giants fandom. I can definitely hear the connection.

5:05 PM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger d said...

yes, I'm suprised more singers haven't listed her as an influence, since I don't think I hear it so much in the jazz world as I do in indie rock.

t, thanks for the heads up on the song link.

5:09 PM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger Pete Galub said...

I actually did meet Polly Jean months ago the night before I was going to see her at Hammerstein Ballroom. There was a frail figure at the listening station to my right at Tower Records on 66th. It was like 11:20 pm, I was on my way back from my parents' house and made the usual stop into Tower. There she was. I didn't really know what to say or do. Somehow, I managed to blurt out a "Polly" . She turned her head towards me and I sheepishly uttered "I'm really looking forward to your show tomorrow night." She didn't say anything, kind of nodded and looked at me in acknowledglment but also with hints of 'thank you but please don't invade my space' Anyway, it was still fun..
By the way Polly is soooo into Don Von Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) that he is one of only four people that she sends rough demos to for comments and critique when preparing for another album.
And on the subject of "Rid of Me", the infamous line "Don't you wish you never met her.." is directly lifted from the Captain's song "Dirty Blue Gene" on the album "Doc at Radar Station" - one of my fave Beefheart albums. The Captain is the best...

6:28 PM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger d said...

ah-ha! I only know trout mask & a few other random things. have you ever seen the old grey whistle test dvd they sell at tower? it includes a performance from beefheart & van vliet scares the bejesus out of me! he keeps making all these "you are getting sleepy" hand gestures at the camera & widening & narrowing his eyes. the song is called something like my oh my or wind blew high or something...d'ya know what that's from?

10:11 AM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger Mike said...

Blossom Dearie also sang "Figure Eight" and "Unpack Your Adjectives" for Schoolhouse Rock.

10:40 AM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger d said...

that's right, I forgot about the schoolhouse rock tracks. I must say, I loves me some no more kings from that tribute to schoolhouse rock cd.

11:38 AM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger Pete Galub said...

Not sure about which Beefheart song you are talking about but, "The Old Grey Whistle Test" footage I saw was him doing the songs "Big Eyed Beans From Venus" and "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby" - can't remember if he appeared any other times on the show but the Beefheart website at www.beefheart.com is top-notch and has some great video footage, including his interviews on Letterman. Worth checking out..
While "Trout Mask" is great, there are other ones that are just as good, that aren't given as much attention like "Lick My Decals Off, Baby", "Clear Spot", "Shiny Beast" and the aforementioned "Doc at the Radar Station". Also, his debut, "Safe as Milk" has a 19-year old Ry Cooder on it. It doesn't quite sound like Buena Vista Social Club..

3:00 PM, May 06, 2005  
Anonymous gil said...

i actually meant it in an "ewww you like blossom dearie?" way. i actually find her whispery thing annoying, but to be fair, i've only really heard her while i was watching "kissing jessica stein," and the song they chose for the particular scene sucked!

delete this post if you must, but i felt i needed to clear a few things up. unless of course you knew that's how i meant it in which case, never mind.

3:29 PM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger Jenny said...

I find it insane that All Music Guide has, as far as I know, never listed PJ Harvey as an influence of Fiona Apple; there are a LOT of similarities in the music, especially vocals. I only know PJH a little (I have "Is This Desire?" and the "Down by the Water" single), but she does an incredible version of "Is That All There is," the TERRIFIC Peggy Lee classic tune about destruction and suicide. Is that on any of PJH's albums?

12:45 AM, May 10, 2005  
Blogger d said...

is that all there is?, I believe is on dance hall at louse point, which is her collaboration with john parrish. music especially commissioned for a dance troupe. basically, her band stuff is billed under "pj harvey", whereas this project falls under "polly jean harvey".

I'm not sure I agree on the fiona/polly jean comparison. fiona is much more of a soul type singer; despite her intense vibrato, she favors melismas & other such typically soul/jazz/folk vocal embellishments. polly jean is much more interested in experimenting with her voice & is more of an avant blues vocalist. she's not afraid to sound truly bizarre. I'd recommend checking out her first album, dry, then hearing "to bring you my love" (post voice lessons (!)) to see how far she's come...

12:06 PM, May 12, 2005  

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