(a song inspired by my anti-Hero of folk)
Sometimes I feel like a nut
In the last couple of days two separate people have asked me “What is your favourite band? What is your favourite song?” Both times I was taken aback by such a direct question – taken aback by such a need to get at my musical core in one fell swoop. I entertain the notion that I am a complicated nut to crack. After all, I listen to all kinds of things. Sure there’s a lot of classic rock in there but it’s tempered by indie rock too, and some hip hop, a bit of prog, Appalachian folk and bluegrass, Ethiopian funk, ambient, classical Indian, western classical, oh and speaking of ‘western’ – country and western as well (although leaning to the alt side), different types of jazz, noise rock and hardcore, any guitar played by anyone who’s stepped foot in Mali, and recently I’ve gotten a little obsessed with music produced by prepared instruments. I’ll stop although I could keep going – I know it’s getting annoying. In case it’s still not clear, I’m trying to say (with sledgehammer subtlety) that I listen to everything – so don’t try to sonically peg my down. Like I said – that’s what I’m trying to say.
Sometimes I don’t
I also like peanuts, but I’m not really that enamoured of walnuts. Walnuts are the ones with the shell that need a specially designed, industrial tool to crack open while numbing your palms in the process…. A peanut shell? You can split that thin membrane with your fingernail. So maybe my listening tastes aren’t quite the complicated nut to crack – at least not as complicated as I like to think. My musical heroes (aka influences) over different epochs include The Beatles, Archers of Loaf, and Grizzly Bear. I’m a big fan of folk music too. Along the folksier vein and from circa the same time periods of music – I also consume(d) Neil Young, Elliott Smith, and Meg Baird. But like many others, I only discovered the music of Nick Drake long, long after his fatal overdose of antidepressants in 1974.
Nick Drake was an (unlikely) musical hero to only a few in his lifetime – beyond his immediate family there were the likes of (former Velvet Underground) musician John Cale who ended up collaborating with him, and discerning record producer Joe Boyd who ended up producing his records. Although Nick Drake sold only a paltry number of albums while he was alive, his musical catalog never went out of print and he continued to pick up admirers over the years, a growing number of them successful musicians who cited him as an influence. In 1999, 25 years after his death, one of his songs was used in a VW ad and suddenly his popularity burgeoned.
Flawed heroines and heroes are the ones that I like
Edith Hamilton published Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes in 1942. I read the book forty years later and quickly knew many of these (western mythological) stories by heart. These characters performed their share of heroic deeds – but they were also ensconced in tragedy, and they definitely screwed up more often than not when implicated in their adventures. I think what appealed to me was that many of the depicted ‘heroes’ were very flawed – in essence, very human. Nick Drake was recognized as a musical genius by the close circle around him in his lifetime. Long years after his death, an explosion of others have grown to appreciate his genius as well. He was a very accomplished guitar player, had a mesmerizing voice, and wrote intimate songs that leave you ambivalent in your joy and sadness. But there is much more to his music and the effect that it has on the listener – a ‘more’ that cannot be summed up – a ‘more’ that paradoxically feels perfect because it can convey what is flawed. I assume that the only way he achieved this balance was because he was a flawed hero himself. We are all flawed; I guess a hero does something with those flaws.
Name a song – any song
A week ago – someone asked me a much more reasonable question – “Who does your band sound like?” I was stumped. I wasn’t trying to be difficult – it was just hard for me to judge who I *thought* we sound like in general. I’m sure an outsider would have a much easier time at labeling us (I definitely am quick to label other people’s music that I hear). If she had said instead “Pick one of your songs and tell me who it sounds like” – the task would have been much easier: I would have picked the song below and said “Nick Drake”. Nick Drake was keen on alternate, open tunings for the guitar; I am keen on alternate, open tunings for the guitar. Nick Drake was a formidable finger-style guitarist; I have recently been (re)exploring the method of finger picking more ardently. I was playing around one day looking for a new alternate tuning for the guitar and came across a site online that listed one of Nick Drake’s favourites. I tuned my guitar and as the cliché goes – the song pretty much wrote itself.
Sad can mean happy – no?
The lyrics to this song are quite sparse: Oh my love. Oh my sweet. It’s all over.
People kept commenting that the song was “sad”. I didn’t agree – I thought it might be happy or sad or even both. Maybe “it” being over was something that was desired – something to be celebrated. I decided to give it a title that made that aspect more clear. I thought it important to give it a title that is almost as long as the song itself. Maybe that logic is a little flawed – like some of our heroes. Below is a video of us performing the song.
Words and music by Prasun Lala.
Performed by Horses Vanish (Prasun Lala and Brigitte Mayes).