Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Song of the Day #220 - Joanna Newsom - Goose Eggs

What we built, at the kiln that won’t be stilled...

Alright so Song of the Day hasn't updated in around 332 Divers (my new standard unit of time) and for that I feel a little ashamed but honestly do you really want to hear more hyperbolic ranting about how amazing Joanna Newsom is? Well, I hope so, because here we go. You might know of a band called The Beatles. They are fairly popular, is my understanding, and fairly well regarded by music critics. When talking about the Beatles a cultural legacy half a century long bears down upon you, and now, in an age of absolute madmen and Scarufi copypasta and McCartney as the Kanye guy and maybe better than Migos - an era of memes, basically - we've moved pretty far from the actual music, I think. Like everyone, I had a few years in high school where I worshiped the Beatles, took as simple gospel the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time, but high school was a long time ago. And although I'll occasionally listen through Magical Mystery Tour with my dad, it feels distant now, a previous era. So distant you think maybe "who was I then?" and then "how did I hear it then?" and even "why?".

Well, at the start of this song, there's a little noodly riff on geez, like, an organ, I think? And it reminds me of the Beatles. And I'm not really sure why it reminds me of the Beatles, but it does. And it is a nice feeling, a nice warm familiar feeling, and it makes me feel like everything was worth it, and it just makes me feel everything. And then later, around 2:40, there's a really twangy acoustic guitar, and for a second I feel like I get a glimpse into someone else's internal world, just long enough to have a sense of the bigness of it, the richness, someone who has grown up listening to country music and the section makes them think of, I dunno, Johnny Cash, or something, and I get a strong feeling of "sonder", it cuts me deep, it is almost physically painful, this combination of being so reminded of the Beatles and then imagining so vividly someone else being reminded of something equivalent in their life.

And then at 3:00, when she juts so abruptly into the final verse, almost interrupting herself, it reminds me of something else too, something implacable, and it makes me realize that portion of memories and feelings and lives that I can imagine - already much larger than those that I can experience - is a single drop compared to the vast oceans of those that exist. That I cannot even imagine the memory this evokes. The scale is dizzying.

This sort of thinking really is "the kiln that won't be stilled". This is my transition into talking about the lyrical content of the song. Again we have a sort of... conflation of human relationships with the behavior of birds, and a conflation of peacetime and wartime. There's the speaker, and "honey" (literally andy sandy i throw my iphone 6 across the room), and the "stranger", and the "friend". Geese serve as an extended metaphor: their migration, their formations, the thinness of their eggs, the use of "goose eggs" as an idiom for "zero" (maybe?). It feels both abstract, a general sort of story, but then has some immediate, specific references - catching a flight out of Covelo? As always, the specter of time is present... trying to arrange the various "recently"s and "long time since"s and "long ago"s into a sensible linear chronology is difficult, which is maybe the point.

I could speculate, sure. I think this is a story about a husband and wife who operate a kiln. They've fallen out of love somewhat. They both fantasize about abandoning each other. But then the husband is called away to go to war, and she realizes that she truly does miss him, and she longs to be the sort of person he needs. There's also a sense of futility to it, though... like, if he comes back, what will really change? They'll still have all their secret problems with each other. And she can remember failures in previous relationships. So in a sense she just also hopes he finds peace, no matter where he goes. Of course, every aspect of this operates on various levels of reality. Like the kiln maybe isn't a kiln but is their artistic ambitions. And war is actually going on tour or something, who knows.

Or I could be totally wrong. I think I could defend this narrative reading pretty well but I'd also be totally open to throwing it all out if someone said something like "oh didn't know you know that when geese are nesting the male goes out to find food but the female will sometimes blah blah" idk. So... I think I'll just take it easy for now. I have years to think it over, and I know the answer will be complex, and evocative, and multi-faceted, and incredibly satisfying.

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