Music Monday: Sacrilege

Great song but the original video is way too disturbing.This performance on Letterman is incredible.

One thing I find interesting about the song is that the lyrics seem better than they are because of the music and performance. I mean here’s all the distinct verses:

Fallen for a guy, fell down from the sky
Halo round his head
Feathers in a bed
In our bed, in our bed
Asked if I would try
To leave this all behind
Halo round his head
Feathers in a bed
In our bed, in our bed
And the two choral lines:
It’s sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege, you say
And I plead and I pray
So, the story is basically, narrator slept with a fallen angel. That’s it! No details.

But the song is so rich and evocative it doesn’t matter. The words are more than good enough to work with the music.

OTOH, compare with “Angel in the Storm”:

The music is terrific, but there’s so much poetry in the lyrics. Zoe seamlessly — effortlessly — weaves the mundane with the transcendent:

She’s had many lovers
And then vanished from their lives
She thinks that they’ll forgive her
If she carries them all with her
Like a necklace made of knives

I know that I’ll be one of those
Who waits for her return
But she never flies the same way twice
She says the more you sacrifice
The brighter you can burn

It would be interesting to hear a more intense arrangement of “Angel in the Storm”. The current one has a more blues grassy feel which is tremendous fun but doesn’t quite punch the way “Sacrilege” does.

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Music Monday: If I had a Cello

I will not let my post count stay at 666, appealing as that might be! Time to start blogging again.

I’m picking two old Zoesongs, two of my absolute favourites and two which demonstrates just how fucking fantastic a songwriter she is. Both are “muted” overall, medium tempo, only a bit of range stretching and fairly simple arrangements. But the lyrics and music are devastating. Today, “If I had a cello” and next week “Songs of Love and Distance”.

This song is so heart achingly world weary yet…uplifting! It starts so strange:

Dont ask what I’m doing these days, I don’t know,

I lose track of it all

Is the interlocutor a daily acquaintance? I don’t think so. They seem like a far off person, at least temporally. Someone trying to catch up. Someone who we might have expected to lose track of the narrator’s all. But so has the narrator!

I’m alright I just lie here watching the light
as it slides down the wall

Depression? Or just…on the phone with an old friend or lover wondering wistfully. I always hear this as a call out to Paul Simon’s, “Obvious Child”:

I’ve been waking up at sunrise
I’ve been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day
Some people say the sky is just the sky
But I say
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

(This is certainly one of the more elliptical verses of a song with a lot of elliptical at best bits.)

And some things have happened, but nothing’s really news
Maybe I’ll get a cello, and teach it to sing the blues

This not a blues song. It’s a meta blues song. The fantasy of getting a cello and mastering it to the point it sings the blues is so extravagant compared to the prior lines. Then we get the first round of the chorus:

If I had any sense I would say I was steady
If I had any say well I’ve said already
And you know, if I had me a heart I’d have something to lose
If I had me a cello, I’d teach it to sing the blues…

The first time I hear that it killed me. The way Zoe’s voice comes down on “blues” is so wishful, emotional, yet detached. I sometimes read it as about depression (esp with some dissociation and depersonalisation). Depression doesn’t always manifest itself as tearful sadness and more than grief does. Sometimes, you’re just lost. So far away from anything that feels real or good or true or happy that there’s just nothing. Numbness is a coping strategy but it doesn’t feel good. It’s distressing.

The second version deepens the depression theme, but the second chorus really hits the bluesiness:

And I don’t wanna cry and I don’t wanna holler
And there’s nothing to buy with another day’s dollar
And you know, I got nothin’ to say, nothin’ to lose
But if I had me a cello I’d teach it to sing the blues…

The transmutation of elements of the first chorus are spectacular. From  the sense of saying “I was steady” to not wanting to cry or holler feels like the surveying of the range of futile options (reinforced by the second line).

The start of the last verse makes me tear every time:

Don’t ask if I love you today, I don’t know
I’m a bit out of touch
I forgot what it feels like to care a whole lot
About anything much

I don’t feel like singing, there’s nothing in it now
If I had a cello, I might remember how!

 

This fixes the depression theory for me and I remember being the interlocutor (and the narrator). The loss of love and singing is only held off by the strange cello fantasy. The last chorus throws in some more blueness:

If I had me a plane I could be on the level
If I had me a soul, I could deal with the Devil
And you know, if I had me a heart I’d have something to lose
If I had me a cello, I would teach it to sing the blues

 

There’s an awesome coda:

And nobody dies of a second rate sorrow
I could get out of bed and feel fine tomorrow

This captures one of the most destructive aspects of depression, the idea that it’s no big deal and sorta a choice.

There’s a version of the recording where she double tracks the vocals on the chorus offset by about half a line. I loved it but her dad thought it made things too cluttered. I don’t know if I still have a copy of it but I will dig around.

As poetry alone, this is amazing. It’s definitely a “song” type of poetry, but the subtle imagery and progression are precise and evocative in multiple ways. The rhyme and rhythm are perfect and the tone varies from formaller to looser without any artificiality.

Then there’s the music. It’s sneaky then it soars. It fits the words so perfectly that it carries you along through their complexities. The way Zoe hits “touch/much” rhyme makes the whole verse into devastation for the interlocutor.

Travelling Moon has a lot of a lot of great songs on it. People should give it a listen!

These Weeks In Zoe News

Woof, that was a long blog hiatus. First my WP app broke. Then I was sick. And then anti-momentum set in.

Plus, Google broke ordering by date. This is a bad and dumb move for a bad and dumb reason (and just incoherent since they let you search by recency or by a search range…screw you Google. Screw. You.)

But, there was some Zoe news in the past 6 weeks or so. Most of it is bits from trailing reviews or reactions to the tail end of Joan’s Fare Thee Well tour without a lot of new in them. (The song is great!)

I did like this bit:

Her reading of Zoe Mulford’s post-Charleston church shooting ballad, “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” was cheered wildly. The lyrics (about Barack Obama) seem fantastical in the Trump era.

I’m not sure why I find this weird, but the lyrics showed up in a column (“Journey in Faith”) in The Catholic Times by Chris McDonnell:

Reflecting back to the attacked on a church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine were killed when a visitor joined in their prayer I was reminded of a song recently released by Joan Baez:

…[lyrics]…

May this Lent bring us all to a greater awareness of our need to pray, not only for ourselves but for others who find it hard to pray.

I mean, it’s a perfectly fine column and a perfectly fine use of the song.

Someone posted the tabs to “Sister Sail”. HOW COOL IS THAT!

And, while hardly scientific or even well put together, I love this list of top 10 songs that mention other songs:

9. “The President Sang Amazing Grace”, Joan Baez. An Obama-themed song on her latest album, nominated by William French.

This Week in Zoe News

There is none! Whoof!

So, I think we’re at the end of the Whistle Down the Wind and “Fare Thee Well” tour ride. Obviously, the book tour will hear things back up a little in September, but I think we’re back to “normal Zoe news”. Which will include a bit of US touring in April and, I hope I hope, some moves toward the next album.

My nasty cold still is debilitating me and Zoe’s back/leg/butt/nerve pain is ongoing (saw new PT today!)

We’re a sickly bunch here! What doesn’t kill us makes us very very unhappy.

This Week in Zoe News

We caught Joan Baez as she came through Manchester again:

The crowd applauded when she announced the song which was nice!

There are some reviews of her last UK shows.

London:

In contrast, the previous president was honoured in Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace”, a moving song about Obama’s rendition of the hymn at the service for the Charleston Church shooting victims in 2015. “The President came to speak some words, And the cameras rolled and the nation heard”.

Glasgow:

There was room in her repertoire for a younger generation of writers, including Antony and the Johnson’s Another World, Josh Ritter’s Silver Blade, which may or may not be an ass-kicking response to the haunting folk standard Silver Dagger, and Zoe Mulford’s The President Sang Amazing Grace, composed in response to the Charleston shootings of 2015.

Zoe’s also been really nice to me as I’ve been home sick the past few days.

This Week in Zoe News

Some Folk Alliance notice:

Cleveland Heights musician Charlie Mosbrook loved it, but suffered “culture shock” because Montreal was not as accommodating to the disabled as America. He had a tough time getting around in his wheelchair, but managed to perform and see many of his musical heroes, like Livingston Taylor.

“Livingston took time to talk to me and give me some advice about performing,” he said. “I also enjoyed seeing Zoe Mulford, who was awarded one of the Folk Alliance’s song of the year for ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace.’ ”

 

Joan comes around again:

Zoe Mulford’s The President Sang Amazing Grace, released in 2017, could be from another age, whereas Woody Guthrie’s Deportee, written in 1948, is all too topical.

Peter Tork died. Zoe’s mom grew up with him (the first boy she ever kissed!) and Zoe met him. She wrote a nice reminiscence:

Sad to hear of the passing of Peter Tork. My mother knew him when he was “that Thorkelson Boy down the road” – before he went off to California and got famous. He was, in fact, the first boy she ever kissed. I don’t believe she told me this when I was a child watching the Monkees on TV. I heard about it years later, when she was on tour with me in New England. She had gotten back in touch with Peter through his website sometime after his throat surgery, and she took me to visit him in the house where he grew up, in Storrs, CT. “Are we visiting a famous musician or an old friend of the family?” I asked. “Friend of the family,” she said, so that is what we did. We drank herbal tea and he played the banjo for me. He and my mom recalled the local swimming hole and twinkled at each other, and we said goodbye. Later in that trip, I did a radio spot where the DJ said “I bet you can’t guess who this is,” and played an a capella Spanish Christmas carol for four voices. My mother leaned in to the mic. “That’s the Monkees,” she said.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=c_hlYgCNFZc

This Week in Zoe News

Quick summary: Whistle did not win a Grammy but “President is Folk Alliance’s song of the year. Probably the right way round if you only get one!

Roots Magazine (Canada) had a write up:

The Song of the Year award was presented by Lisa Schwartz. Zoe Mulford won that award for her song “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” which was very ably recorded by the legendary Joan Baez. Ms. Mulford accepted the award with immense humility and grace and thanked the folk music community for its part in the song coming to the attention of Ms. Baez, who had heard it on folk radio and then chose to record it herself.

Here’s a very nice write up of one of Joan’s recent concerts:

When she introduced ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ she said it was about Obama visiting a church to console the survivors of a shooting. The song told the rest of the story and I was in tears once again like I was for much of the night. I can’t describe how spot on the song is and how well the sad story is told. 

The news was not voluminous but it was cool.