By Amanda on November 27, 2012 3:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
This book exists (shortly) and I have ordered it. Who knows I might also blog about it.
This book exists (shortly) and I have ordered it. Who knows I might also blog about it.
Went to see John Hiatt at the Metro last Tuesday night. As previously lamented here that meant I had to miss Lucinda Williams who was a few blocks up the road at the State. It was a difficult choice but I chose the ability to get up the front and rock out at the Metro over having to sit and clap politely at the State. I haven't seen any big reviews of Lu but I can't possibly imagine it was anything less than sublime. So there can hardly be a higher compliment to JH to say I didn't regret missing Lu at all. It was a real greatest hits show, pulling out all the favourites (although alas not MY personal favourite 'Icy Blue Heart") and most everyone around me seemed to know all the words to all of them. I was in my preferred spot on the rail, front row centre. The vocal was a bit low up there (I always choose proximity over audio fidelity) as you'd expect but the band sounded great. It was a fantastic night.
I really wish I could leave it there but then dear old Bruce Elder had to go drop this pile in The Age/SMH and I am forced -- positively FORCED, I say -- to conduct a good old fashioned fisking. On one level it's just the usual tossed off nonsense, but on another whenever women have their existence in a public space so casually written off -- and our newspapers of record chuck it up as their official record of events -- we have a real problem.
Usual tossed off nonsense first! Bruce has a lot on his plate. He has to review books and music. He has to sniff out the pros and cons of various Southern Highland B&Bs so Fairfax readers can plan their long weekends. He is BUSY, y'all. So it's unreasonable to expect him to have a decent grasp of the canon of every act he gets paid to see. But then if you act like you do, you risk looking a fool.
John Hiatt plays music for blokes. He writes, sings and plays about those things that certain blokes relate to: electric guitars (no accident that the opening song was Perfectly Good Guitar and that for most of the 90-minute performance the band configuration was three guitars, bass and drums); the awfulness of being a male eager to escape the boredom of small-town life (Damn this Town), cars (Detroit Made and Drive South) and, when he occasionally gets around to love, it's the kind of tough love that blokes have to deal with - like the unexpected departure of his "baby" in Crossing Muddy Waters where he describes the event as "She let out this morning / Like a rusty shot in a hollow sky". Great imagery, but not exactly a sweet lament for lost love.
Jesus where to start. "Perfectly Good Guitar" is a tongue in cheek response to the habit of certain 60s/70s rock stars to smashing their guitars. Only blokes may note and wryly comment on this cultural artefact! Um, OK, whatevs.
"No coincidence the band configuration was guitars, bass and drums." Indeed it's not a coincidence since he was playing rootsy rock music and this is a common, indeed ubiquitous, rock configuration. Here's the most recent live stuff of Lucinda Williams' I can find from SXSW this year AND OH MY GOD ITS NO COINCIDENCE SHE HAS GUITARS AND DRUMS IN HER BAND. That's what rock musicians (and blues and country) do, why do I even need to say this?
"Damn This Town" is, like, not at all what he describes except in the most superficial way. Indeed the "damn this town" refrain refers to wanting to you leave your town (a peculiarly male life experience? SIGH.) but there's a line at the end "I'm 58 years old, still live at home like a kid/Damn this town/Damn this town" tips some of us off to a bit of irony happening. Maybe only "literate chicks" listen to the last verse of a song.
OK, "Detroit Made" is basically just about cars, I'll give him that one.
But "Drive South"? "Drive South"?????????
"Drive South" is a song about automobiles in the same way "Leaving on a Jet Plane" is a song about aeronautics.
And then there's "Crossing Muddy Water." It's not expected or compulsory to know the background but this song is actually about the mid-80s suicide of his first wife. So, yeah. Now you don't need to know that but even coming to the song as a blank slate I cannot fathom a moral adult listening to it and coming away with the idea it was some kind of masculine posturing or jesus I don't even know what he's talking about. The sensibilities of a person who DOESN'T think this is a (bitter)sweet lament for lost love is to be forever questioned. I mean, LISTEN TO IT. (written lyrics)
"When he occasionally gets around to love" OHHAhahahhahahahahHAHA. Bruce, all his songs are about love. Here's the setlist cadged from a roadie after the show by my friends Rory and Jane. LET'S TAKE A LOOK!
With YouTubes so you can check my work.
Perfectly Good Guitar -not love
Detroit Made - not love
Crossing Muddy Waters - LOVE
Drive South - love
Cry Love - duh it's right there in the name, LOVE
Paper Thin -- love
Real Fine Love - love
Thing Called Love- love
Feels Like Rain - love
Slow Turning - love
Tennessee Plates - Elvis, bank robberies and grand theft auto ... because of LOVE, well OK maybe more LUST
Memphis in the Meantime - needing to get out of Nashville because everyone knows blokes hate country music
Have a Little Faith In Me- love
Riding with the King - What does this song mean? Well ever since Eric Clapton and BB King covered it it means John Hiatt gets a sweeeeet royalty cheque every year. HA HA.
I trust we don't need to dwell on this further.
Now we move from the stupid and worthless to the offensive and dangerous.
There are women in the audience but most of them are accompanied by their blokes, who sport a beer in one hand, jeans sliding down over a sagging middle-aged spread and hair that is either in short supply or turning grey.
Bruce, the Margaret Mead of Fairfax, has lit on the startling sociological insight that in our society a large percentage, even a majority, of people go to social events with opposite sex partners. (you may speculate on the projection going on in his description of the men, I am above that) I didn't do a head count; I didn't know the data would be required later to prove my existence. It would not surprise me if the demos skewed male, however I did a statistical analysis (oh, yes I did) of the "likes" and comments on the last 5 posts on the official John Hiatt Facebook page and came up with a slight majority 52%-48% of people who appear to present as female.
Perhaps Bruce is basing this extraordinary claim on some personal experience. Perhaps he knows a woman who was there under sufferance with her husband to pay him back for that one time he sat through an episode of Grey's Anatomy with her. But I have anecdotes too. Next to me front row centre were a woman I didn't know who was with her I presume male partner and knew all the words and was right into it. To my left were three women I knew, none of whom were there "with their blokes." Two are long standing Hiatt fanatics and one was not really familiar with him but left a convert. I could also tell you about standing in the long queue for the ladies loo with a bunch of women gushing to each other and counting out decades of their life's milestone by John Hiatt songs.
This is tossed off rubbish too. He's phoning it in, as they say. But as I said above there are serious cultural undercurrents to a man being able to assert so blithely the invisibility of women's experience, and to take for granted they are merely passive supporters to their men's actions. Heaven forbid they could be there as a mutual pleasure.
As above this idea John Hiatt's music is blokey blokeness for blokes is utterly laughable. If you said the same about, say, Bruce Springsteen or Steve Earle or - in particular - Justin Townes Earle I think you would be wrong but you'd have a much more arguable case than John Effing Hiatt whose stock in trade is in fact love songs that border on the soppy but which can just stay the right side of that tightrope which is why he is such a bloody ace songwriter. (I suppose actually if you are one side of a tightrope you fall off, but I can't be bothered to tighten up my similes just for goddamn fracking Bruce Elder.)
It's so WRONG that it is HILARIOUS he quotes "Well I never went to college babe / I did not have the luck / Rolled out of Indiana in the back of a pickup truck" to support his thesis of John Hiatt, Poet Laureate of Dude Nation while ignoring THE WHOLE REST OF THE SONG.
Then out of nowhere
and from nothing
You came into my life
I'd seen an angel or two before
But I'd never asked one to be my wife
Well you can sprinkle all your teardrops
Across the evening sky
But you cannot hide the twinkle
Of starlight in your eye
Well I left my map way back there, baby
I don't know where we are
But I'm gonna pull my pony up
And hitch my wagon to your star
You've got a real fine love
You've got a real fine love
One I am unworthy of
You've got a real fine love, baby
Well now the babies are all sleeping
And the twilight's givin' in
She looks like you, he looks like her
And we all look a little like him
Well maybe it's just the little thing
The way I feel tonight
A little joy
A little peace
And a whole lotta light.
Fuck yeah, what a brute! I mean, really.
Returning to "Drive South" here's vid of JH doing it which I choose of the various other versions on YouTube because it has audience shots so you can see the women brazenly existing right there. Although it is at a Borders bookshop so perhaps they just dropped in to pick up The Rules revised edn and their ladybrains were ambushed by the wholly unfamiliar sounds of a form of transport being used as a symbol for freedom and renewal.
And here's noted woman Suzy Bogguss doing a version of the same song, which was so transgressive of societal norms that it got to Number 2 on the US country chart. (Oh early 90s music videos, don't go changing.)
By the way the only vee-hick-al refered to specifically in "Drive South" is "this Chevy van." This is a Chevy van. CHICK MAGNET OR WUT??
Another non-bloke who didn't get the memo is Bonnie Raitt whose biggest career hit was JH's
hymn to masculinist posturing ode to romantic love between mature equals "Thing Called Love." Here's Bonnie, with Dennis Quaid a ha ha.
Eh, now I'm tired of dealing with this shit. I rest my case.
One musical release of 2010 I should have mentioned in my retrospective was Rosanne Cash's memoir Composed. It's not music but it's musical and should be considered along with the CDs as a musical event. Open the cover not, those looking for a blow by blow account of Nashville Babylon, her own or her father's (actually I don't think she had one of her own) or even any messy domestic details surrounding marriage/divorce to Rodney Crowell- it's mentioned more than once of course, this being an account of a life, but in a ... mature way that speaks of lessons learnt and growth and whatnot. I do not mean to make it sound precious, for Cash is wickedly funny although for a full exposure to that side of her I recommend her Twitter feed; she's a riot. Rodney Crowell himself has an autobio coming out and at the time of its launch she tweeted something about hoping he was as nice to her in his book as she was to him in hers. LOL.
Composed is very much about an artist, the winding road to knowing you want to be one, to becoming one and living as one.
I got the new Robert Plant Band of Joy with its stellar cast including Patty Griffin, Darrell Scott and Buddy Miller but to be brutally honest found it dullsville. Instantly unmemorable.
HOWEVER you should read Tim Dunlop's "review" which is a wonderful example of the kind of personalised (and yet clear eyed and useful to all) writing about music that I like the most.