the body as the entire world

Joanna Newsom’s February 2010 release on Drag City Records, Have One on Me, is no longer new news, but given the length of the album—its 18 tracks clock in at two hours—it requires a long, simmering listen. The album’s widespread reception in The New York Times and Frieze exposes Newsom’s crossover appeal and like Rodarte, whose fashion lines translate better in an artworld context than in terms of ready-to-wear street style, Newsom has been embraced in the arts, her elusive narratives and neo-Baroque orchestrations are motifs already familiar to contemporary art.

Newsom’s lyrics concern themselves with the stuff of pop songs, of love and loss, but they are enrobed with complex rhymes and fanciful metaphors that border on children’s fables—however tinged with the sorrowful fates of her “baby birch,” “kingfisher,” and “dog-sized horse.”  All the various events described by Newsom  focus on the body as a full vessel of complicated emotions, with bones as “soft as chalk,” a heart as “heavy as an oil drum,” and a pliability that allows her to be folded in the “cupboard with a bottle of champagne” by a former lover who still haunts her.

The concept of the body, however small, as containing the whole world is Newsom’s contribution to a year of turning inward, usually with an attempt, however unrealizable, with obtaining empathy with others, i.e. Marina Abramovic. The body as the entire world, although by no means a novel approach to songwriting, is one that converges the seemingly unceasing political and social disasters of our time with our just as significant disasters enacted on a personal scale.

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5 Responses to the body as the entire world

  1. susie says:

    Maybe not the comment you would want to hear, but you would be an excellent music writer. I like this review (or is this more of an extended analytical commentary) style way better than trying to describe the sound through comparisons (ie most music writing). I’ve never been particularly interested in Ms. Newsom, but this makes me think I must listen to this record, that I must set aside some time for it and let it really sink in. I haven’t done something like that in way too long.

  2. Thanks, Susie! I would be a music writer – flexibility is my word of the moment. We should discuss this (flexibility) at some point in relationship to not ending up in small liberal arts collegeville, regardless of the tenure track or museum possibilities.

    If I were writing a music review for a music blog, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned Marina Abramovic, but maybe if I were a music writer (I was a college radio DJ at one point if that explains anything – and it probably does), I would have mentioned Kate Bush like every other review written about Joanna Newsom.

    I would write about everything if I could, but every blog needs to be “curated” at some point or it turns into a Live Journal rant, right?

  3. I’ve been thinking lately that I shouldn’t curate my blog so much, kind of just let it be a free flow of ideas. Maybe something interesting can emerge from that. I mean, any blog is as much of a vanity site as a livejournal right?

  4. I definitely think there’s always an aspect of curating with blogs. I mean, you wouldn’t want to combine, say, your wedding announcement site with hypercastle, right? I wouldn’t want my blog to turn into Livejournal in the sense that I want it to be about things that “resemble contemporary art.”

  5. Ah yeah good point, there are limits.

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