Sunday, July 6, 2008


With everything else you’ve got on your mind, you needn’t be losing sleep trying to keep your various pop singers straight. Not literally anyway. Throw in some other similar sounding words (Nico, Neko, Neitche, Nike, etc.), and it can get even more complicated. I’m here to help, but must warn you that there will be a test on this later.
Nietzche was a 19th century German philosopher.
Nike is the shoe company that exploits children in Asia
Nico is a long-gone, once-member of the ultra cool Velvet Underground.
Neko Case is a young Canadian singer-songwriter, and sometimes member of the New Pornographers.
Their musical achievements being less memorable, I’ve already lost interest in the first two.

Chelsea Girl 
Nico’s first solo album, Chelsea Girls, recorded right around when the Velvet Underground were getting their bearings, starts with two songs by a very young Jackson Browne. The first one – “The Fairest of the Seasons” – is relatively unknown, but beautiful in that early Jackson Browne/mid-sixties kind of way. The next – “These Days” – has been covered a lot. I don’t know if this is the best version, but it was striking enough to bring tears to my eyes when I first heard it. Although Jackson’s version sports a fabulous guitar solo and heartfelt harmony, it’s also got his trademark self pity.
Contrast their handling of the couplet whose first line is: Well, I had a lover
There’s JB’s whiny - But it’s so hard to risk another, these days.
And Nico’s cool and devastating - I don’t think I’ll risk another these days.
I took a cheap shot at Nico’s singing last year, but I was just pandering to those of you who might find it, in combination with her heavy Austrian accent, awkward or cold. But on “These Days’, she manages to convey all the emotion of the song with none of JB’s narcissism. Oddly enough both songs popped up in “The Royal Tannenbaums”, which I happened to catch while obsessing on this CD, making them even more affecting.
The rest of the record is excellent. She handles the great, early Lou Reed songs quite well, and does a fine job with Bob Dylan’s rare “I’ll Keep it with Mine”. The only lousy track is a whimsical – something Nico is definitely not - third song by Jackson Browne.
All in all, it’s an interesting mix of mid 60s musical cross-currents like folk, experimental and orchestral. And most importantly, the wife liked it.
Nico went on the make more music that I’m told veers into very stark, experimental territory. I’ll explore this more after I’ve refilled my meds.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood 
Everything is so easy for Pauline begins Neko Case’s first song, “Margaret vs. Pauline”, from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. It draws you right in because the rhythm of the melody perfectly matches that of the words. The song hints at sibling rivalry but turns out to be about class differences.
Her sound is a cross between country and David Lynch. (You know, with that echoey guitar, like that Chris Isaak song). I was a bit suspicious of this at first. Sometimes a distinctive sound is there to distract you from a distinct lack of something else.
Well it’s certainly not her voice. Neko’s voice is pretty but strong, occupying a middle range that wears well on you. She writes songs that suit her voice, too. This is less common than one would suppose. And every last one of those songs has a well thought out melody that gets you through the oblique lyrics and abrupt endings. It all holds up so well that we found ourselves listening to it repeatedly for months.
I should have realized how good it was when I copied it into my Windows Media Player library and, mixed in with everything else there, every song still stood out. And since I expect that a more or less steady clarification of the words will ensue, I’m in for the long haul.
So now here’s the quiz:
  1. What was the name of that Chris Isaak song?
    1. Don’t care.
  2. True or False, Neitche was a lousy tipper.
    1. True, but only if the waitress laughed when he ordered an “uber-burger”.
  3. In what movie does Nico the character appear?
    1. “The Doors”
  4. In what movie does Nico the actor appear?
    1. “La Dolce Vita”
  5. In what documentary is Nico the subject?
    1. “Nico Icon”
  6. I know I’ll love the Neko Case record, so what New Pornographers CD should I get?
    1. I’m currently listening to “Mass Romantic” (rhymes with frantic). I’ll let you know.
  7. Is Nike still exploiting kids in Asia?
    1. I still don’t buy their sneakers, so let me know.
And yes, Johnny, you are correct. None of this was covered in class.

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