Singer-songwriter dies aged 68
Her signature song is as relevant as ever.
You Don’t Own me
“You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys
And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ‘cause
I’m no music geek, but taking time out to listen to music is quite important to my mental health. At the beginning of 2013, I felt that my collection had stagnated a bit and decided to try and listen to a wider range of artists. I remembered my Last.fm. account and made myself use the “mix radio” option.
One of the first new discoveries of the year was Anais Mitchell. I love her album Young Man in America (2012) and her gorgeous traditional folk collaboration with Jefferson Hamer, Child Ballads (2013). In 2014 I hope to get to know Hadestown. Santigold was another new find for me in 2013. Her fusion of pop, rock, hip hop and reggae creates a glorious sound. Bat for Lashes grew on me – Natasha Kahn’s slightly eerie melodies didn’t appeal at first, but they crept up on me and I’ve now got three of her albums.
Johnny Cash’s American Recordings (1994) is perfect music for dark, winter evenings. It’s a comeback record that marks the beginning of Cash’s immensely creative partnership with Rick Rubin. I think it’s worth getting for the cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire’ alone. Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues (2000) is an all-round brilliant folk album, featuring a diverse range of songs with an Irish-American flavour. Neil Young’s triple album compilation, Decade (1977) is just a sublime retrospective and contains some of my favourite Young songs, such as ‘Expecting to Fly’, ‘Helpless’ and ‘Winterlong’. What’s even more amazing is that this retrospective was produced so early in his career.
Thea Gilmore’s Songs from the Gutter (2002) is not her most consistent work, but a great showcase of her talents, with catchy protest songs, soaring ballads and some excellent covers, perhaps most notably the version of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’. Ani DiFranco may finally be growing on me. I really like her upbeat last album, Which Side are you on? and the song ‘Red Letter Year’ was my New Year track. PJ Harvey’s ‘Peel Session’ recordings (1991 – 2004) offer stripped down, intimate versions of her songs, some of which I prefer to the original album versions (‘You Came Through’ and ‘Victory’ are my favourites). Kristin Hersh’s sixth solo album, The Grotto (2003), is the one that I listen to the least, not because I dislike it, but because there’s a vulnerability to it that I find a little too intense and raw. It feels like the older and sadder sister of 1994’s Hips and Makers
It’s been a challenging summer which has seen me facing up to some fears, having a bit of an existential crisis and going back into therapy – hence the lack of posting on any of my blogs. At times like this I like to play a lot of music and this summer I’ve mainly been raiding Spotify for new stuff.
I was a little sceptical about Wild Flag to begin with – initially they just made me miss Sleater Kinney all the more, but the album has grown on me I am now fairly well converted by songs such as ‘Boom’. Wild Flag is middle-aged women rocking out with a sense of humour and generally having no fucks to give.
Imagine, if you can, almost every lesbian in South Wales and a fair few from the South West and London, crammed into a small wood-paneled venue and you have something approximating the experience of seeing Patti Smith play at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff. Andy and I were quickly scooped up by a group of fifty-somethings from London who seemed to think we were very young and sweet, and that they ought to support us through our first Patti Smith gig.
I never really thought I’d get to see Patti Smith play live and didn’t believe it was going to happen until she actually appeared on stage. I think I would have paid the ticket price just for the opener, ‘Dancing Barefoot’, but that was followed a generous set of favourites: ‘Free Money’, ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’, ‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Ghandi’, ‘Peaceable Kingdom’, a fist-pumping rendition of ‘Because the Night’, a very long (and even better for being a bit messed up) sing-along version of ‘Gloria’, ‘Babelogue’ and ‘Rock N’ Roll N****r’.
How much Leonard Cohen have I been listening to recently? So much, that I seem to have fairly well spanned his career, starting with Songs of Love and Hate (1970) and ending with his latest album, Old Ideas. My mother says that Songs of Love and Hate is “just groaning”, but for me this is an album so miserable that it manages to cross the line into cathartic and even strangely uplifting. 1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony has a bitter, accusatory edge in songs like ‘Is this what you wanted?’ and ‘A Singer Must Die’, but there’s also the exhilarating repetitiveness of ‘Lover, Lover, Lover’ and the poignant ‘Who by Fire?’ The most famous song on the album is ‘Chelsea Hotel’ which Cohen wrote about his brief affair with Janis Joplin. He later said he regretted writing the song, but I find it quite touching, especially the line “We may be ugly, but we have the music”. I actually have a T-shirt with the album cover on it, which I’m not allowed to wear very often because it’s a bit rude. Recent Songs (1979) is a jazzier, more chilled out and funky affair. I think these songs actually come across better on the live recording of the 1979 tour. Still, the album contains one of my favourite Cohen songs, the deeply unfeminist but gorgeous, ‘The Traitor’. I haven’t really got to know the new album yet, but on one listen I found it melodic and melancholic, with Cohen’s worn-out voice making it all the more moving somehow.
Music post even later this month. I seem to have lost the last couple of weeks somewhere along the way.
Oh well, the seasonal listening continued in November with more of the artists that I tend to associate with winter. I’m still working my way through Johnny Cash’s Unearthed (2003) collection, mainly focussing on the second disc, Trouble in Mind, a collection of covers which ends with a quite sublime version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire’.