Archive for the ‘Rosanne Cash’ Category
Bill Moyers: What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?
Joseph Campbell: What we’ve got on our hands. If you want to find out what it means to have a society without any rituals, read the New York Times.
Bill Moyers: And you’d find?
Joseph Campbell: The news of the day, including destructive and violent acts by young people who don’t know how to behave in a civilised society.
Bill Moyers: Society has provided them no rituals by which they become members of the tribe, of the community. All children need to be twice born, to learn to function rationally in the present world, leaving childhood behind. I think of that passage in the first book of Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spake as child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
The Power of Myth. Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
Haruki Murakami’s new novel, After Dark, is an existential twist on the story of Sleeping Beauty. Mari sits in a diner near the magic hour of midnight, reading, while her fashion model sister Eri sleeps a deep fairytale temporary-suspension-of-life kind of sleep. Mari is drawn into a strange, violent underworld by a jazz musician, who once dreamed of being the sleeping sister’s handsome prince. He sits with the studious younger sister and orders chicken salad and toast. A unplugged television in the sleeping sister’s room screens an incomprehensibly symbolic image. There’s music, too, much of it jazz. Some of it the “languorous, sensual music of Duke Ellington. Music for the middle of the night.” This is an urban version of the Grimm’s midnight forest.
Beginning in a few days the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne is a version of Sleeping Beauty that operates in a dark dreamworld too. The tagline on the programme is a quote from Elias Canetti: “All the things one has forgotten scream for help in our dreams.” The show has music at its heart, by Nick Cave and Elvis Costello and David Bowie.
Mythology is the device that anchors us in time. The timeless stories of the human condition are brought into our own time by writers and artists and dancers and musicians. These artforms all bleed into one another these days, but it’s particularly rock and roll musicians, a generation of mature performers, who are creating the great symbolic works of our age around their music and presenting them in theatre productions in Australia.
The Sydney Festival has been instrumental, too, this year staging theatrical presentations of Lou Reed’s Berlin album, a story of a troubled couple spiralling down into despair and violence , Rosanne Cash’s Black Cadillac album, a chronicle of her response to the death of both her parents, her stepmother, an aunt and a stepsister within an eighteen month period.
The Malthouse, the Sydney Festival, and St. Ann’ Warehouse in New York (which developed Lou Reed’s and Rosanne Cash’s shows) recognise that a generation of rock musicians, now mature, is engaging the world and the community, and that their music deserves a reflective hearing: something that brings out its symbolism, not treating it as prose or a verb, not treating it as a barely disguised narration of actual events in a performer’s life.
It was the Sydney Festival’s staging of Came So Far For Beauty in 2005, an appreciation of the songs of Leonard Cohen by a generation of singers and songwriters who’d been inspired by him, that set the ball rolling. The show was produced by Hal Willner, whose albums of interpretations of music by Nino Rota, Thelonious Monk, Harold Arlen, Charles Mingus, and classic Disney Themes re-interpret the standards and bring them alive for a new generation. So many rock and roll musicians in such an intelligent setting, within a sharp arts festival was galvanizing, for the musicians and the audience. It’s only the field of criticism that hasn’t caught on and begun appreciating this mature form of rock and roll music.
The sorrow and pain and suffering presented in Lou Reed’s and Rosanne Cash’s performances were received exultantly by the audiences. It became clear that Lou Reed wasn’t being ironic, ten years ago or perhaps more, when in an introduction to a book of his lyrics he described his songs as “compassionate”.
His songs are so devoid of opinion and judgement and sentiment that we can see the whole world, how these people were shaped by their circumstances and we can ’suffer with’ them. The Sydney Festival programme quotes David Bowie saying, “He supplied us with the street and landscape. And we peopled it.”
In Rosanne Cash’s concert the redemptive quality of sadness became evident, that it’s through sadness we appreciate the fleeting beauty of life, and can value it more. “Loss is cumulative,” she writes on her website. “But so is poetry, and art, and faith, and Love. I know now that what survives of my parents, what is truly mine, are their best qualities, which I am free to adopt, and the accumulation of their millions of acts of service to me.”
There’s no simple way to encapsulate what these musicians are doing. Their musical styles are too various, the themes of their music too broad and diverse. The most useful way to group them is by intent: their music is partly the general definition of folk music as being ‘by and for the common people.’ It’s easier to say what this music isn’t.
Although it beats with a similar heart it isn’t the same as the concerts that have grouped musicians together in response to cataclysms: George Harrison’s Bangladesh, Bob Geldof’s Live Aid, Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid, Al Gore’s recently announced Live Earth, a global twenty four hour concert to be staged in July. And it isn’t sympathy for issues, the concerns of the non-musical humanitarian projects of celebrity musicians for debt relief in third world countries or to prevent A.I.D.S. And it isn’t essays of a situation: Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a portrait of the Vietnam War and the state of the world at that time, or the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s re-interpretation of that album in response to Hurricane Katrina’s devestation of New Orleans.
What’s different in the symbolic rock and roll is the scale of the topic — everyday, ordinary moments in life that are the same whether you are a globally famous rock and roll musician or a poor citizen of a besieged nation — and the scale and position of the musicians, who depict themselves standing among people, beside them, with them, not as figures whose celebrity have them looming larger than the population as a focus and a rallying point. Of Black Cadillac Rosanne Cash said, “My hope is that people bring their own lives to it, that they’re not just hung up on the back story”.
Collectively the music of Nick Cave, and Lou Reed, and Rosanne Cash,and those who share their perspective, addresses the spirit and has some of the beauty of the group of voices speaking in the common language of the day that made the King James Edition of the Bible, when spoken aloud, such glorious music. Nick Cave and Lou Reed have both used gospel gospel choirs at recent concerts and this is an especially powerful symbol.
This music of the downtrodden and beleagured, bearing witness, has always been Nick’s reference point. The volumes of his lyrics printed as books have begun with a quote from the Book of Job, “and I alone am escaped to tell thee”, not the words of Job, being tormented and tested by God, but Job’s servants, who were allowed to escape in order to tell Job of the calamities that befell his family and servants and animals.
The song that draws the perspective for this symbolic music is Nick Cave’s As I Sat Sadly By Her Side. It seems like one of those Renaissance perspective judging devices. The co-ordinates given are universal, as though we’re viewing the song from the position that the Apollo 8 astronauts had, looking back at the earth and seeing one world, undivided. The song is a conversation between a man and a woman, God and humanity, Nick and himself, Nick and his audience, as each of these figures sits beside one another, describing what they see out in the world and in their own hearts. The song has the rhythm of a strong heartbeat and advocates not looking and thinking and talking about the world, but moving out into the world, walking among people.
Nick Cave’s album Let Love In in 1994 begins a mythological journey that moves him from youth to maturity. His whole world and all he believes in implodes. In the song Lay Me Low, his young self dies in order to be reborn into a community directed way of living, but what he also lays to rest is the grotesque caricature that had grown up around him that’s made reference to in music profiles and interviews.
The Murder Ballads album has him moving through the dark forest of original experience (depicted as the midnight woods of Grimms Folk Tales), and like Dante moving through his labyrinth, Nick’s guides — in this case Bob Dylan — can only go so far with him. He is about to move into new territory, to remake the role of the singer and songwriter as a mature artist, for his own time. When he re-emerges into the light, on the Boatman’s Call album, he questions the nature of light itself: rejecting the mystical spotlight shone from a God that moves life mysteriously from the Heavens, to the idea of the light within, the sense of personal responsibility and inner divinity represented by the figure of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Thomas, a scripture discovered in 1945.
Rock and roll was born out of youthful rebellion. There are great numbers of bands and individuals who refuse to grow up, who live in a state of arrested development, perpetually in their early twenties, and another set of bands and individuals reforming or relaunching their careers, in their fifties, to reclaim the success and glory they experienced in their twenties.
This has nothing to do with the mature rock and roll artist, whose references have become symbolic and need to be enlivened by the listeners in their own lives, but the music media insists on reading these songs as prose, as literal autobiography rather than as poetry, metaphors. There’s little to be gained, any more, by interviewing musicians and trying to pin autobiographical details onto parts of their songs, by trying to find a thread that links the wildness of youth to the bruised wisdom of the adult.
There’s little wonder Nick Cave, though polite, is cold and impatient in interviews, little wonder that Lou Reed loses his temper. Their stories and symbols aren’t ones they’re inventing, they’re observing or quoting. They’re familiar stories becoming more beloved in their retelling, reflecting our world, in our time, as a mythical realm.
There are no deliberate links between the works of these artists, they just live in the same world, see the same things, question their consciences in ways that line up with one another. A mature artist’s work is inflected to the community and the examination of the community strengthens their work. So the addition of the works of painters, guest musicians, films, in a stage setting, and being part of a theatre’s run or a festival deepens the appreciation of the works in the way that being a lone focus wouldn’t.
The Tiger Lillies have made an entire career of telling mythologically profound stories in a theatrical setting, through music. They’ve staged a version of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Match Girl. “Andersen’s fairy tales corresponded to the urge to speak out for a writer who did not come from a genteel class, but from the lower ranks of society, deprived and uneducated,” they say. ” Unlike traditional fairy tales, set in distant lands “once upon a time”, Andersen set his tales in the familiar and contemporary world, making fantastic descriptions stem from realistic ones and investing everyday objects with life and magical powers. His imaginative spirit transfigured the real world and opened up another one, wonderful and spiritual.
However, his fairy tales cast a shadow. They are as mournful as they are wonderful: they caught the spirit of dissolution contained in those times, caused by the disappearance of an old world, gradually replaced by the modern one born with the industrial revolution of the 19th century.”