Joanna Newsom

By on 3-09-2010 in Uncategorized


I have been far too dismissive in my life, ruling out artists, writers, whatever, based on preconceptions or early knee-jerk reactions. As one gets older, these sorts of instincts seem to solidify and self-justify. Going into something you might assume is not your thing will, more often than not, leave yet another bad impression and strengthens your resolve to avoid more of “those sorts of things.”

The trouble is, however, that one runs the risk of missing out on things of almost incomprehensible beauty, such as this and other songs by Joanna Newsom.

Though I am as guilty as most in the closing of the mind, I can’t say that my initial reaction to Joanna’s music was to close myself off from it and recoil. See, for me, one of the good things about living in this era is that it is easier to just get exposed to the actual art, music especially, without reading about it first. In pre-Internet days, I tended not to base my decisions on whether or not to go out and explore new artists based on music press; that is not the most effective way to convey what an artist is like. Nevertheless, I would often find myself reading that this to that band was like this other one. Oh? Well I don’t like what I have heard of them, so the other ones who this writer says sounds like them must also not be my thing.

If someone had described Joanna to me before hearing it, I can’t say I would have heeded the George Michael dictum, “Listen Without Prejudice.” The adjectives most used to describe her are, “elfin,” “fairy,” “child-like,” “freak folk,” and so on. She pays the harp. Apparently, she grew up in a neo-hippy, new age, rural ex-mining mountain enclave alongside friends and collaborators like Devendra Banhart. Some would say her voice is often like that of Bjork. Sometimes it can seem like Tori Amos. OK? See why one might run away as fast as possible?

You would do so at the risk of missing out on something deeply rewarding. She’s not for everyone, but don’t automatically assume she’s not for you. Lucky for me, I clicked on something and heard her first, before knowing anything about her, a couple of years ago. I was drawn in pretty quickly. I had sort of put her music on the back burner, but it hs moved back to the front recently. There was a nice piece on her in the Times this past week. Then I clicked on this and watched the whole thing repeatedly. The harp playing is jaw-dropping, the voice is magnetic. But most of all, the poetry leaves me breathless. You simply will not find anyone who sounds just like her. Having listened, I can’t imagine her music not existing. It seems necessary. It feels at once magically inspired and stolen from the ether, and crafted artfully. It makes me believe in God and it makes me want to work harder. I think she has tapped the same mystic vein as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Ricki Lee Jones.

You can find the lyrics online. I hate all those pop-up-y ad-riddled lyric sites. But I must quote at least one section that hits me on a primal level and makes me wish that I had written it:

And they will recognize
All the lines of your face
In the face of the daughter, of the daughter, of my daughter.