Transformations (Notes on Music)

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1. Some Internet memes are meant to last more than a day or two. Like everybody else, I watched the moving Susan Boyle performance on YouTube earlier this week, and then I watched it again and again. What makes this so special? The quality of her singing alone doesn't account for the craze (and maybe that's why there's already a backlash brewing). What makes the performance so magical, I think, is the transformation we are allowed to witness. Before Susan Boyle sings, she appears dowdy, foolish, out of place. Then the music starts, her spine straightens and she becomes a different person, beautiful, elegant, confident, before our eyes.

Screw the backlash; I plan to watch this video at least ten more times. And thinking about Susan Boyle's televised metamorphosis makes me realize how often the appeal of music has to do with the excitement of transformation. With that in mind, here are a few more recent notes on music, literary and otherwise.

2. Inspired by an apparent nod from Bob Dylan, I've now begun reading Southern writer Larry Brown, who I'd previously only occasionally read about on a blog. I couldn't find the short story collection Big Bad Love in my local Borders, but I did find a novel called Dirty Work and it's excellent. It's very easy to imagine why Dylan would like this writer (the highly literary singer has also been reading and talking about Barack Obama's book).

3. I get many review copies of books in the mail, and not nearly as many CDs. A publicist for the Decemberists sent me their new CD Hazards of Love because it was supposed to have lots of literary content. After several intrigued listenings, I still can't quite make out the story (which seems to involve a rake's progress and a twisted love affair) but I love the music. It reminds me of nothing so much as vintage Jethro Tull -- dynamic, lilting and appealingly histrionic -- with a touch of late-period David Bowie, and I sure as hell do mean that as a compliment. Check it out for yourself.

4. There's nothing wrong with Neil Young's new automotive-inspired CD Fork in the Road either. Shades of Rust Never Sleeps, except now it's an ecologically-minded LincVolt rather than a sedan that's being delivered.

5. The new Jadakiss record includes "What If", a sequel to his great track "Why" that features a guest verse by Nas. I wouldn't mind two or three more verses, but Jadakiss has never been one to wear out his welcome.

6. He got erased from history in the otherwise good film Cadillac Records, but late great Chess recording artist Bo Diddley has another distinction: Malia and Sasha Obama's dog is named after him.

7. Xeni Jardin points to the always transformative Patti Smith on Easter Sunday.

8. An archived Ramones performance from Steve Wozniak's 1982 California bash the US Festival.

9. A new David Lynch video meditates upon Moby.

10. A four-year-old kid channeling Keith Moon.

11. A bunch of girls jumping rope.

If not one of these various offerings manages to transform you, I don't know what to say.
6 Responses to "Transformations (Notes on Music)"

Hi, LeviGuy:

Well, you certainly go a long way towards articulating what happens with Susan Boyle's transformative miracle; thus, I, too, shall attend and attend again with you. Magical, marvellous, magnificent, the wondrous works a gift unbidden; and, since the word-veri thingie speaks to exactly those kinds of metamorphoses, allow me to quote from the maestro of same in this context:

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked; it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."
-- Franz Kafka

Undeniably, Jf/ox
--
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/Booksblog/

by Duncan Brown on

What's in a name.

This Brown has read every word Bob Dylan ever wrote.

by Mississippi Bennu on

1st. Judith, that's a beautiful quote. Dzang. Wow. Kafka, *phew*

2nd. The Decemberists. Pseudo-literary would be closer to the truth (as with many a folkish indie band of contemporary times) but every ounce as great as you've said.

by dlt on

Bob Dylan, like his hero Woody Guthrie, has been on the side of the people, the working class. His faith in Obama is no surprise

Joey Ramone's fine covers, the Stooges' 1969, Satchmo's What a Wonderful World

by Steve Plonk on

Ms. Boyles song was flawless and spine tingling.
A wonderful beginning for a person whose dreams had frozen up until this moment in time. Yes, I think Ms. Boyle is on her way to stardom one way or another.

I ended up here by googling Jack Kerouac. Thank you for writing about the Susan Boyle Experience in such a thoughtful manner. I've been pondering it all week!

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