Even when you touch my face, you know your place*
I wish I was still here.
I listened to a lot of music on boats with Dramamine coursing through my system and much slathered on suntan lotion, skipping past any song that wasn't vibrant enough to match the surroundings. The Book of Right-On led the play list. In that setting, it just snapped into place.
Joanna Newsom has been delighting and infuriating many of my most trusted music advisors ever since she started peering, elfin and spry, from behind trees or harps. Her voice has a piercing, off-putting tone; her preoccupations are quaint and fantastical. But I've come to terms with it. More than that, I fell in deep affection. When one of her songs came on at my old office and a co-worker started mocking her, I was filled with an irrational, barely suppressed rage. Like someone was talking smack about my great-grandmother. Come to think of it, Newsom sounds like my great-grandmother, with her mushy enunciation, somehow both child-like and ancient.
The Book of Right-On, from its first notes, is a sly, glance and look away bit of slink. The literal image I get in my head is that of a woman, writing in her journal, at a train station or some place with bustle, lost in her observations about her traveling companion. They are lovers or friends, perhaps both, but that's not important. What is important is that they don't know everything about each other yet. So she can weave a story, make something magical of their shared mystery, fluctuate between being flirtatious and hesitant and not seem difficult, merely playful. She passes her scribbled words over; a page of warnings and come-ons. Will her partner volley? How could he not?
The Book of Right-On/Joanna Newsom (mp3)
For those of you who only want power harp, here's a live performance of this song from Later with Jools Holland.
The Book of Right-On (Live)/Joanna Newsom (video)
Buy The Milk-Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsom.
* I dedicate today's selection to Soft Communication contributors The Phillips sisters who were born however many years ago on July 11. They will either adore or loathe this song. I await their verdict.