Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Crazy in love

Image: Sue Beyer

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Miranda Lambert

Revenge tales constitute a
bounteous chunk of our murder ballad birthright and, of course, we've got our contemporary chronicles like Johnny Cash's "Delia's Gone," and (God help us) Eminem's hateful "Kim." We recite these texts of bloodlusting payback and gunshot resolution (yes, gun-control doctrinaires too) alone in the dark -- mentally reenacting other, more emotionally satisfying, ends to our own heartbroken wrongs. But even spitting mad, we feel guilty about it in the day's bright light. Right? Er, right? Which may be why Miranda Lambert's capped-and-bleached Texas grin of an outlaw ballad/revenge fantasy is both exhilarating and uncomfortable. That bounding banjo and those percolating guitar n' drums sound awfully gleeful. And obsessive stalking (It took me five bars, some 30 license plates/I saw her Mustang and my eyes filled up with rage) and concealed weapons seem like just another night on the town with your best gal pal. Surprisingly, "Crazy's" denouement is pretty tame: The gun that makes its appearance in Act One doesn't actually fire in Act Three. But hoo boy does Lambert perform an ugly public exorcism of some bad and yes, violent, feelings. This expert balance of horseplay and insanity makes "Crazy" more than your typically tiresome values-affirming Nashville product. Besides, who's to say what happens off-screen? There's always closing time in the parking lot.

From Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Amazon, iTunes)
Miranda Lambert's Myspace

The One I Love
- Liz Durrett

I don't love this cover; for one thing, it's too funereal.
But what never occurred to me until I heard Athens, Ga. based Liz Durrett sing the R.E.M. original was that this song isn't simply a stealth weapon deployed in the final battle of a long-suffered domestic campaign, a careful-worded punch in a place where the bruise won't show. No, it's much more devastating. Durrett's sagging dolorous delivery and the drummer's stark bucket-thud beats throw into relief the song's awful logic, its repudiation of love as a living thing, as a viable concept. Consider these words (that you know well):

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I've left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love.

The prop isn't someone the singer used to love, and kept around past her/his sell-by date. The prop is someone the singer loves, still loves, just like the new prop; love being ever and always there only "to occupy my time." Love being equal to prop. We're talking something not just cruel but deeply misanthropic. Another interesting thing about the way Durrett performs this. When Michael Stipe sings "Love," it's inscrutable. Though it's one of the few songs R.E.M. recorded in this era where every word pretty much rings clear, the emotions, the object of address, everything, is opaque. (Which, of course, is why "Love" is up there with The La's "There She Goes" as one of the most misunderstood love-songs-that-ain't.)
Durrett, on the other hand, autopsies this body under white naked lights. But she doesn't judge. As she peels back the skin of teenage/rock star
dedication rhetoric (public avowal as a sort of socially sealed covenant), she lets you peer into the corpse's cavity and decide for yourself. Anyway, it's a way more radical song than I ever thought and a trickier cover than it might at first seem.

From Finest Worksongs: Athens Bands Play the Music of R.E.M. (Amazon, Athensmusic).
Liz Durrett's Myspace

Elsewhere, but totally related:

Charlie of Nerd Litter was nice enough to interview me for his Behind the Blog series. I dished celebrity gossip, dropped several embarrassing personal ... ok, those are lies. But we did chat about some of my favorite 2007 albums, the worst film I ever saw and my mp3 blogosphere peeves (along with a lot of book talk), so it's an interesting read I think. Thanks, Charlie!


Blogger sean said...

yay miranda! and great interview, amy. mr litter is right-on in his compliments and you come across as intelligent, humble, and dare-i-say-it a little bit sparklin'.

SPEAKING OF ALICE MUNRO, and it must be said i'm not a big fan, this weekend i went to see this new sarah-polley-directed adapted-from-a-munro-short-story movie, Away From Her. it showed a pretty real-to-life southern ontario, beautiful in places, and the evocation of alzheimer's was powerfully real (i say this from experience)... but on the whole thought it was a very clunky script, often clunkily delivered, and unnecessarily cheesy in places. a good movie, but a big disappointment.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks, Sean. But I am shocked, SHOCKED by this "not a big fan" revelation! (And from a Canadian!)

Ok, fine. But I warn you: Don't even think about saying anything bad about Didion.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

I don't really listen to mainstream country music, but Miranda Lambert I like. Good song.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Fantastic post, and yes, revenge is a complicated topic; I'm not sure I've ever seen or read anything that treats it with the complexity and nuance I'd hope for.

Side note: Jonathan Rosenbaum in Essential Cinema points out the troubling vigilante justice theme that runs through most U.S. action films which, in retrospect, only increases my respect for Hot Fuzz.

9:58 AM  
Blogger sean said...

re alice, what can i say except:

sean + realism + domesticity + small-town canadiana = ambivalence.

my canadian writers of choice are: ondaatje (intermittently), yann martel (singularily), anne michaels (inevitably), dennis lee (unreservedly), robertson davies (sporadically), michel tremblay (what i've read), timothy findley (ditto), and douglas coupland (but not for a long time).

i've never read any didion!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Oh no, Tuwa! Rosenbaum is strictly persona non grata on these premises (but you weren't to know my history with the guy). Still haven't seen Hot Fuzz, but want to. I really liked Shaun of the Dead.

Sean, you should read Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. You'll recognize the style right off because she has so many disciples -- from the good (Sasha Frere-Jones) to the unfortunate (Bret Easton Ellis). I rip her off all the time. Badly, needless to say.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Sorry, Amy; I didn't know. I won't mention it again.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Good interview. I'd agree with you about the writing mp3blogs, though I'm as much a part of the problem as anyone else. ^_^

2:20 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

LOL Tuwa. Yours is a lovely example of all the best things an mp3 blog can be. (!!!)

3:10 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Hm, frequently I just write whatever and trust my readers to make roughly the same associations I do. I'd think that much of it falls afoul of your (very sensible) lament that many mp3bloggers don't actually write in depth about the music: its background, construction, meaning, why it matters to the author.... :-)

In any case, I'm very rarely happy with what I write. I guess we're alike in that.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Well spotted on that cover of "The One I Love." I can't imagine ever listening to it again, but at the same time it's totally changed my impression of the song. I'm not sure I'll ever listen to it in the same way. Which is pretty impressive for a cover, I suppose.

Great interview. This is consistently the best-written blog around. And some of the best writing I see in any format, actually.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Amy, I'm glad you cited that Fleetwood Mac piece as one of your favorites--I remembered enjoying it when it was posted and it was fun to read it again.

Why no likey the Rosenbaum? Admittedly, I've not read him much in the last three years or so, but if you like critics who think and make you think, he's better than most.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hey Neil. Re Rosenbaum: I don't have particular problems with his writing. Mostly I dislike his just-to-be-contrary brand of contrarianism. At a certain point, it's no longer productive. I particularly loathe those year-end lists where he snubs most mainstream & independent product, but includes at least one really atrocious Hollywood movie that every other critic in the universe (rightly) panned and at least one (if not more) film that was actually made in 1972 and is only available on a videotape that a friend just happened to smuggle out of Tibet and screen in his basement (thereby qualifying as a film that showed in Chicago that particular year). Elitism masked as rigorous critical inquiry (or whatevs) will never appeal to me;)

And Charles, that's very kind of you. I'm still not sold on the cover, but I find it an interesting song to think about.

11:54 PM  
Blogger jon manyjars said...

Ditto on the interview. I wish I could write like Grace Paley (who is apparently still alive, at age 84).

12:05 PM  

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