Back in February 2004 I was sitting in the Canberra Theatre, amongst a very mixed and somewhat subdued crowd, experiencing the dizzying personal heights of an Ani DiFranco live show. I get that she’s not an artist every true music lover will dig, and I get that her overtly political lyrics can polarise people. Whatever. I love the woman and everything she stands for, and on this particular tour I saw her perform 3 times. Her show at the State Theatre remains one of the best live music experiences of my life.
ANYWAY, in Canberra she played a bit of an eclectic set list. She played some fairly obvious songs like Evolve and Gravel (I think) but she also pulled our Everest and some other stuff I remember being surprised about but can’t remember now. She rarely plays covers. Like, hardly ever. I think on a DVD once I saw her play a Greg Brown song, but that’s probably it. But on this night she pulled out a song called Trampoline, which was written by a singer/songwriter called Joe Henry. At the time I had no idea who he was, but he went on to produce her album Knuckle Down.
Since then I’ve learned he is a pretty incredible song writer who has plus plus levels of respect from many other song writers that I respect. I’m not terribly familiar with his music, but given his association with Ms DiFranco every time I hear/see his name I pay attention.
Noodling around on the interwebs this week I came across this article written by Joe Henry about the relationship between literature and song writing. And you know, it’s like someone has written what I’ve been clumsily trying to articulate for some time now – I think there is only a very subtle separation between writing fiction, writing poetry, and writing songs. Real songs with literary substance. Song writers like DiFranco and Darnielle and Mangum and Sheff make me feel the very same things that I feel when I read Winterson or Plath or Neruda. Sure, the melody can help your heart to soar, but it’s words to me that give it wings.
I love this –
…Vonnegut reveals the beginning and end of his tale and gives nothing away. He places the past, present and future all in the same room and defeats time as a reliable voice of reason and judgment. He identifies himself, The Writer, as a marginal character in the story, thereby removing himself from it completely. He is the singer, not the song, and the tune is singing him. He is free.
It makes me want to read Vonnegut.