WOWEE ZOWEE (42)
October 17, 2018
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.
Every song on the album is perfect to my ears: the novelistic aspect to the way themes appear and recede and recur, and to the music’s rich interiority and stylistic complexity. One cluster of songs especially astonishes me every time I listen to it. “April the 14th Part I” opens with what might be called the ruination day theme. The song then segues into a scene that Welch witnessed in real life. Wandering the streets after her own show, she thinks about the five-bill band, two-dollar show that came on afterwards and watches a road girl from one of the bands sleeping in a van full of trash (There was no way they’d make / even a half a tank of gas), and then the refrain rolls back in: It was the fourteenth day / of April. The achingly beautiful voice, the moan in it, conveys a powerful sense of identification and alienation under the shadow of longstanding ongoing calamity, the calamity of making art included.
The sequel “Ruination Day Part II” is an unbalanced not-sequel, bringing to mind the way that Joan Didion’s unsequel Blue Nights offers a fragmentary, broken reprise (ruination beyond devastation) of the calamity she narrates in The Year of Magical Thinking. The real sequel comes in “Everything is Free,” which picks up the album’s story about the pains of life for a working musician and shows the beauty and devastation of trying to make a decent living as a performer. Someone hit the big score / They figured it out / That we’re gonna do it anyway / Even if it doesn’t pay, the singer tells us, and then come the words that for me connect the narrator of this song with the passed-out girl in the band a few songs earlier:
I can get a tip jar
gas up the car
Try to make a little change
down at the bar
I can get a straight job
done it before
Never minded working hard
it’s who I’m working for
Welch’s art is to combine the mythic dimensions of folk song (Biblical wheels within wheels, Lazarus returned “with the mark death made”) with the grimy urban present-day reality of the artist’s life, and the album speaks at least as powerfully in the present moment as it did to its initial listeners.
WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.
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