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26 April 2010

Joni Mitchell’s anxiety at being an influence: On Antony, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power, Rufus Wainwright

Joni Mitchell is a hero to me, one of the greatest & most uncompromising songwriters of the 20th century and, in many ways, one who stands out as the greatest model for the kind of musicians advancing the cause of songwriting in the 21st. However, this Q&A from an Los Angeles Times piece about actor John Kelly performing her songs in drag finds her strenuously denying that influence. (And, also, putting forth an interesting take on the work of her peer Bob Dylan.)

Why oh why are our best artists always so contrarian, so complicated?

    Los Angeles Times: Of late, Joni, you’ve been a major influence on young, current artists with unique voices: Antony Hegarty, Joanna Newsom, Chan Marshall of Cat Power, Rufus Wainwright.

    Joni Mitchell: Those are theatrical voices, which is a whole other thing. That’s a good game, because it’s small. It never gets too lucrative, so those artists never have to see the puke of it all. I didn’t really go for the big dog race, anyway.

    Los Angeles Times: As well, you’ve had experience becoming a character outside yourself [Mitchell caused controversy when she appeared as an African American male on the cover of her 1977 album, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”].The folk scene you came out of had fun creating personas. You were born Roberta Joan Anderson, and someone named Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan.

    Joni MItchell: Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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4 September 2009

Song of the Summer: Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell”

The autumn doesn’t officially begin until late September. But let’s be honest, emotionally speaking, it starts after this Labor Day weekend.

And I just realized I never announced my official song of summer. Well, whoot, here it is.

What makes this song simultaneously retarded and awesome? Seriously! I think it’s the kind of thing that makes life worth living another day. And I am pretty much 100% serious.

A bit more food for thought on why I like dumb music & why I like smart music. (I hope I don’t have to point out that Das Racist’s music falls firmly in the “dumb” category.)

I will try to limit myself to three points:

ONE: When I listen to this song it makes me smile & note how it puts a laser like target on the redonkulousness of a phenomenon in the vernacular retail shopping experience which no one really pinpointed quite so well previously. (Unless there’s, like, a Tracy Jordan bit about those combo stores I’m missing.)

TWO: By contrast, when I listen to music like that of Nico Muhly it makes me think very deeply about language and meaning and communication. These, of course, are more rarefied areas of human experience, and suitably subtler shades of formal craft are required to make the work successful. (To restate: Artistic commentary about combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell franchises require less complicated tools than artistic commentary about how we tell stories and assemble notions of the self through language.)

THREE: It’s alright for a person to love music that tickles only one side of their consciousness. It’s alright for music to not be a 7-layer burrito dip of meaning, significance and catchiness. Sometimes a dog is a dog, and a cat is a cat, and you can love them for that.


Of course, music that tickles both sides (the need for humor, the need for thought) makes me even happier. I think the Dirty Projectors qualify, and it’s why I love Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom.

Along those lines, this is what I love about Elliott Smith & the Beatles, too. Though neither is explicitly about intelligence or “smarts,” both artists possess a formal genius, plus an extreme realization of a musical aesthetic, along with a realization that the whole enterprise is inherently goofy & a good time & must sometimes break. Maybe that’s why I’m still obsessed with Crass too?

I’ve heard a lot of people in my circle complaining about how stupid Das Racist are, how useless, what an affront to “real” music. My question to these people is this: Why is it that the three rock critics left in this world seems to be obsessed with pinning down cats for not being dog like enough, and dogs for not being cat-like enough?


Okay, actually, I think that’s more than three points. But here’s a final one, after the jump….
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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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