Christmas has passed, the turn of the year too, and Nano month has long ago come and gone. That means it is finally time for me to make good on my promise to Jen and share the playlist for my November novel writing soundtrack (officially titled Eastern Caberoklezmer Music for Writing Inspired Nano Novels and Other Works of Unparallelled Artistic Merit and General Brilliance).
1. Freilechs von der Chuppe - Schicky Gnarowitz & the Transparent Wings of Joy
There few sounds that fill me with the kind of sheer delight engendered by a well played violin. One of my favorite childhood memories is listening to the Hungarian, Russian and Gypsy dance music my mother favored. These songs were a big influence on my desire to play the violin when I was a child. Give me a violin playing an Eastern European piece like a czardas that starts off slowly, then increases in tempo until the violinist's fingers are flying and my own soul feels like it could fly away for the sheer joy, and I am in musical heaven. So, it is no wonder that I immediately fell in love when I was first introduced to concept Klezmer music. Really, even though I didn't know it until much later, I had been listening to a lot of Ashkenazi music all along, not knowing what it was called or that Klezmer is just a subcategory. Nor is it any surprise that Schicky G's rendition of Freilechs von der Chuppe fills me with maximum happiness. Whenever I hear this piece, my head immediately fills with images of celebration. Any song that can do that is a-ok with me. On top of that (as if they needed it), the trio also gets bonus points for being local to Portland.
2. Coin-Operated Boy - The Dresden Dolls
The Dresden Dolls' website describes their music as "brechtian, punk cabaret" (probably in order to emphasize what they see as parallels between their approach and that of Bertolt Brecht and his avant-garde concept of Epic theater and his use of Verfremdungseffekt). However one describes them, they are unique in a world of Brittneys and Jessicas and do manage to capture the spirit of Brecht's bid to keep the mood strange and just a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure if they are as successful as he was in using this to promote detachment on the part of the audience, but that may be more evident in their live shows than on CD. While still unfamiliar with a lot of their music, I can say that I gladly welcomed them into my Cabaret-Klezmer mix, for the following reasons: 1) they have an interesting, artistic website; 2) their at times near cacophony of piano and drums appeals to me in the same way that the dissonance of a lot of Eastern European music appeals to me; and 3) Coin Operated Boy (the video of which may be viewed here) gels pretty well with my own sentiments about shying away from real, live boys for the moment. For now it's just me and my cats, because in the words of the always delightful Crazy Aunt Purl , nothing is sexier than a single woman with a house full of cats. Give me a few years and my master plan will be complete. I'll be surrounded by their plaintive mewing, while I crochet kleenex covers out of variegated, acrylic yarn. They will keep me company as I watch the collected seasons of Matlock and Murder She Wrote on DVD and write irate, Grandpa Simpson-esque complaints to magazines like Modern Bride. But that is just a view into the future. For now, my attachment to the song is simply that I enjoy it and it seems to fit to mood of my current writing soundtrack.
3. Trou Macacq - Squirrel Nut Zippers
Oh, how happy the Squirrel Nut Zippers make me! There are few songs that can put me in a good mood as quickly as Trou Macacq, La Grippa, Hell or The Ghost of Stephen Foster. Plus, one has to love any band of which Andrew Bird is an honorary member. Most people know the Zippers as part of the 90's swing revival, but there is so much more to their music. Yes, there is a swing band/crazy 20's music vibe to a lot of their songs, but there are also, for example, Klezmer influences to many of their songs. Their fast songs are the kind of music that make me want to get up and dance (while sporting cute, bobbed hear and great clothes from the 20's), yet at the same time put my mind in a kind of light, funny place that is great for writing. And that is why they are a regular part of my writing sountrack and could not be left from this mix!
4. The Night I Can't Forget - Magnetic Fields
One of the things I most love about Stephin Merritt (in addition to his use of words like "presentiments" in his lyrics) is the fun he has playing with gender and perspective - men singing songs from a female perspective, women singing from a male perspective. There is something strangely delightful in hearing a guy sing: "You were an army officer and I just a rockette" as he laments over an ill-fated Paris fling that ended with a child (little Junior), but no other romantic remembrance of the sentiment that engendered him - and all of this sung to a cheery fast waltzing rhythm of strings and accordian, and that is what Merritt does so well - juxtaposing things that seem not to belong together into a harmonious and melodic whole. What, I ask, is not to love about that?
5. L'accordéoniste - Ute Lempre & Bruno Fontaine
Ute Lemper is one of those artists who has a voice and style that are so expressive and edgy that I am always a little sad they are not mine. Whether she is singing a song that I love or one of which I am not so fond, I always admire her artistic merit. Lemper is one of those artists whose work is informed by strong political, cultural and historical motivations. Having devoted much of her canon to the work of Kurt Weil, she definitely has mastered the art of the Brecht aesthetic. Lemper herself notes how much of an influence the art and music of Weimar has had on her own work. Nonetheless, I think my favorite parts of her work (beyond her amazing work in Cabaret and Chicago) are those where she sings the pieces of Edith Piaf. (View Piaf's version complete with creepy disembodied hands - not really disembodied, just an effect of a dark dress on a dark background - below.)
6. Zemer Attic/Tanz Tanz Yiddelach - 3 Leg Torso
It was just last year that I discovered 3 Leg Torso at a CD release party (really a concert at the Avalon) for The Stolen Sweets Shuffle of to Buffalo cd (which is, by the way, filled with wonderful music, none of which is very Eastern, Cabaret-ish or Klezmer-y). Even though 3 Leg Torso was the opening act, it would have been well worth the price of admission or more just to see them. This song is by far my favorite off of their Astor in Paris cd. It is one of those songs that fills me with good will and joie de vivre (don't laugh, in my private moments, I can display incredible joie de vivre. I'm not all seriousness and severe hair and clothing. I can show a little ankle from time to time...). It's funny sometimes how the best things require the smallest amount of explanation, so I'll just stop and go on after noting that Portland is very blessed to be able to count this group of fine musicians as a local band.
7. The Mariner's Revenge Song - The Decemberists
Oh, The Decemberists. What is not to love about having The Decemberists as the last component of my triumverate of local bands on my mix cd? I've talked about this song before, so I will recap what I said before: Words fail to express just how much I love this song, a jaunty ballad of revenge on the high seas. It is a glorious tale of vengeance and being swallowed by a whale. My two favorite part about this song are 1) the appearances by protagonist's ghostly, consumptively weak mother, who urges her son to "Find him, find him, tie him to a pole and break his fingers to splinters; Put him in a hole until he wakes up, naked, clawing at the ceiling of his grave..." and 2) The fact that the mariner is thrilled that he and his victim both managed to survive being swallowed by a whale, because it affords him the possiblity of killing him himself. It's just a great song. If Edward Gorey's art were music, surely this would be it.
8. Zebra - Magnetic Fields
There is something that just delights me about the spoiled, ennui plagued heroine of this song. Maybe it's the fact that she allows herself to engage in the kind of petulant whining I would never allow myself or maybe it's the line "I shan't go to Bali today, I must stay home and hoover up the gold dust", but I find this song extremely satisfying. Besides, as with so many songs on this mix, it makes me smile.
9. Mambo El Soudani - Salamat
Salamat is a band that I first came across a few years ago while browsing the world music shelf at the library. Intrigued by the cover, and wondering what "Mambo El Soudani: Nubian Al Jeel Music from Cairo" would sound like, I decided to borrow it. As it turned out, it was well worth a swipe of my library card. The title track (especially the percussion) is my favorite of the the pieces on the Salamat cd, but the blend of African and Middle Eastern style makes the whole cd worth listening to.
And here ends Part 1 of my writing mix song list and chronicle of why these particular songs made the cut. Since I'm trying to post every day for a month, there is a good chance that part 2 actually will see the light of day. For now, however, my musical mind is spent.