Sunday, August 21, 2011

Since K Got Over Me

This last week has been Kristin Hersh Week over at Manic Pop Thrills (expect an interview there soon; I am not insanely jealous, I am not insanely jealous), and in Edinburgh generally, where she’s done a performance or book signing almost every day. She’s up amongst all the other wacky author portraits that line the inter-tent walkways of Charlotte Square – A. L. Kennedy with a plastic duck on her shoulder, Alasdair Gray gurning and in his element – and even if they have spelt both her names incorrectly under the photo, there’s definitely a feeling that Paradoxical Undressing has arrived, and with it, Kristin as author. Having a hastily-bought second copy signed after the book reading, I told her how much I liked the fact that she describes her songs as happy, towards the end of the book. ‘But I’ve always said that,’ she said, before suggesting that there is an element of sexism in the contrary assumption: that a female vocalist screaming can’t also be having fun. I pondered this for a while afterwards, but couldn’t get myself to agree – the woman on the first Muses record is practically bursting out of her skin, there’s no way she could be mistaken for someone having a good time.

All the same, I do like the idea that those early recordings can’t be pinpointed neatly on a happy / sad graph. At seventeen, this wouldn’t have occurred to me – I was blown away by them in much the same way that I was by Closer and California, and became convinced that all the best music was fraught, on the edge, and deeply unhappy. Which is seventeen for you, I suppose. At seventeen so many things appear solid and permanent and terrible which thirty-five sees are nothing but disappearing miasma; and seventeen can only find out by getting to thirty-five¹. The album actually loses out to its own demo by dropping the rollicking ‘Sinkhole’ – you can see why 4AD might not have wanted to include something that sounded so much like a hoedown, but the upshot is that the playful ‘Rabbit’s Dying’ is badly outflanked. And anyway, ‘Sinkhole’ is a clue, but it’s not about the numbers – the question is, can you look ‘Hate My Way’, ‘Vicky’s Box’, ‘Delicate Cutters’ in the eye? Are you still OK? I know you’re on the floor in a pool of your own tears, but do you feel strengthened in some way? It snapped you like a twig, this monster of a record, but the chances are it fixed something too. Kristin can be as annoyed as she likes that Black Francis got to be the fun screamer, but the Pixies never did that.

It was interesting talking to N. afterwards, in provocative mode, about what the reading was like for a non-fan. Too many cloying words like ‘goofy’ was the verdict, and also she once had a flatmate she disliked who played ‘Your Ghost’ to death on guitar. The whole thing was so needy and wet, the questions were all from ardent worshippers or the clinically depressed (there was one question about lithium and acupuncture which verged on intrusive). ‘If you didn’t grow up with the songs…’ ‘But we did’, was the best counter-argument I could manage at the time. A younger me would probably have muttered darkly and intensely about darkness and intensity, but now I feel more inclined to defend those songs in terms of vitality and, yes, thrills. The cut that kills the knife.


Richard said...

Of the holy trinity you mention, Throwing Muses is the only one providing any "thrills" at all, though. Rabbit's Dying, Call Me, and Vicky's Box all have their...well, almost joyous moments. I certainly listen to it more than the other two, and now, I hope, in a less voyeuristic spirit. From this distance Curtis is clearly ill, and Eitzel damaged- and whilst Kristin isn't exactly happy, there are certainly moments where she's enjoying herself, and I enjoy her enjoyment.

Chris said...

So do I... on plenty of her other records, but I still find that debut so overwhelming. For actually listening to in most situations, give me 'House Tornado' or 'The Fat Skier'. Wonder if she'll cover them in the next memoir?

I think you're being unfair on 'California' there - it has plenty of restrained beauty, it isn't 'just' damaged. There's joy in that opening slide guitar.

Chris said...

Re: thrills on 'Closer', how about the acceleration of 'Twenty Four Hours'? The drums on 'Atrocity Exhibition'? The bite of the vocals on 'Colony'? Though I guess it ends on a bit of a downer. Hooky said on the radio the other day that 'The Eternal' is his favourite JD song, which surprised me.

Richard said...

I think I feel the same way about Closer as you do about Throwing Muses- it's too overwhelming. Your comments sent me back to the record, and I'd add the beginning of Isolation to your list, before it becomes a bit Krautrock-y. I don't mean to be unfair on California, but I still don't think there are many thrills. Joyful, yes. The record that's all of this- joyful, damaged, ill and thrilling- is Miss America.

Chris said...

There are a bunch of Daniel Johnston cassettes which fall into that category, too. No argument about 'Miss America'. I haven't looked for a while, but it used to seem as though O'Hara's Christmas EP was the last record unavailable anywhere. Here is a clip of hers I like, though:

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