All My Stars (37)

By: Joanne McNeil
September 15, 2016


One in a weekly series in which Joanne McNeil recommends books, films, exhibitions, and more. You can also subscribe to the All My Stars newsletter here.



I started this week playing “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man over and over, until I knew all of its earthy ensorcelling lyrics (“…by stroke as gentle as a feather / I’ll catch a rainbow from the sky.”)

The Wicker Man (1973) – Willow's Song from doo on Vimeo.

It is one of the most peculiar moments in any film because it feels so naturally suited in the narrative rather than contrived. I believe in this character, wild and strange as she is. I believe she would indeed strip and break into song in just this way, even though it’s a preposterous, unnecessary thing to do. The song didn’t have to be catchy and it didn’t have to be good. That it is both seems entirely by accident. The songwriter Paul Giovanni once said, “The idea for the song was completely original with me — there was no indication of what it was to be in the script except a couple of lines of absolute filth.”

I’ve been thinking about this question in an interview with Leslye Headland about how “‘indie’ describes genre as opposed to means of production.” And how something similar happens in the realm of “weird” books, movies, music. There’s “weird” material that is unsettling for the matter-of-fact way it presents stories and circumstances that are uncanny or grotesque. Then there is the material that feels like the director is winking at the audience. I don’t necessarily mean like Tarantino or Ben Wheatley. (Although I watched Kill List too, this week, and while I loved the editing, with frantic sequences playing without chronology, I was exhausted by the film’s straining, positioning to be a cult classic rather than a film that given time and audience feedback will be filed away in that bucket in due course.)


There are several covers of “Willow’s Song” (“How Do”) like this by Isobel Campbell, the Sneaker Pimps, and Doves, but it’s the hollow, off quality of Rachel Verney’s vocals (dubbing for Britt Ekland) against the drumming, banging, and, umm, the spanking that elevates the song to so much more. I thought there might have been a Current 93 version, but searching a bit, I can only recover this version from Nature and Organisation, a band I’m unfamiliar with, but apparently a David Tibet collaborator. Now I realize I am just a few steps from writing out of my depth. I think I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters that I don’t follow music very closely and wouldn’t know where to begin to write any music criticism. This is particularly vexing when it comes to music that I like and cannot find critical writing that I can read on it. I like Current 93, I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all their albums to argue why, and I wouldn’t have the words for it anyway.

But in the absence of the capacity to explain why, I’ll leave you with these songs from Trembling Bells, a Scottish folk group that somehow sounds like it recorded fifty years ago without meanwhile sounding too derivative:



CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators