I just got a stark telling-off from my longtime friend, musician Meredith Yayanos, in re: my most recent disparagement of the performer Joanna Newsom. In the interests of balance and listening at all times to people who actually know what they’re talking about, I present Mer’s email rant to me, with her permission (and, after this, I’m actually going to go out and buy YS and give it a good listen):
“…if Joanna Newsom wasnâ€™t some yowling autistic playing a harp with a brick. Itâ€™s tough, I know.”
WARREN ELLIS YOU CUT THAT OUT. I MEAN IT.
Okay, yes, I’ll grant Jo’s voice could be accurately described as yowly and her delivery as Asbergerlicious, especially by someone as eager as you are to write her off. Fine. She’s esoteric. Acquired taste, lyrics/vox wise.
But NO. You DON’T get to diss her harp-playing without backing that up. Back that shit up, my love. Tell me. Why is the woman who plays a Lyon & Healy Style 15 (CRAZY badass classical pedal harp) in a manner that reflects 15+ years of training AND some really innovative technique she learned at Mills college (I almost went there for grad school) not up to snuff for you?
I’m about to go all music math nerd on you, sorry, but NO you do not say that Ms Newsom’s harp playing sounds like that of a mentally deficient and/or physially deformed individual. NO NO NO NO NO. I swear to fucking god, if I could find a recording without her vocal tracks… if you listened a bit more closely to what’s going on underneath the vocals… You’d have to be deaf to think that it doesn’t sound like doesn’t know EXACTLY what she’s doing at all times.
Harp is hard even when you’re playing the cheesy shit. But there are African polyrhythms, tough-as-hell Appalachian traditions, fractured glissandis (a-la USSR-era orchestral composition) and post-modern Mortan Feldmanisms incorporated her songs that would be VERY difficult for even a plain old “good” harpist to pull off like she does, let alone a flipper baby. You put this girl next to some fucking loser-ass WEDDING HARPIST, or even some symphonic pit-players and you’ll be eating your OWN BEARD, MISTER WIZARD.
EATING YOUR BEARD. EATING YOUR BEARD. WARREN. CHOMP CHOMP MUNCH MUNCH.
I love you so. But no, I must be her champion and fight the good fight, defending her honor as a harpist against the mean wizard man.