The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Words? What are they? A single tear will say more than any of them.


posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
THE POWER OF PUNCTUM WAS UPON HIM

"By The Time I Get To Phoenix" by Isaac Hayes (1969)

Visions occur by accident. Lionel Hampton overheard someone in the audience, thought they were saying "bebop" rather than "beat it" and so a revolution was born. Stax Records wanted to put out 30 albums at once as part of a marketing drive. They had 29 in the can and needed another one to fill up the rota. They asked their house writer/producer Isaac Hayes to come up with something. He went off, improvised long soliloquies on four popular songs of the day, and released it as Hot Buttered Soul. It is the only one of these 30 still instantly remembered.

Art sometimes happens by accident. So it is that I now worship at the font of Mr Hayes' astonishing 18-minute extension/extenuation of the Jimmy Webb arthouse soap opera.

Musically the first ten minutes are minimalist. A ticking clock of a rhythm section, a sustained organ drone (LaMont Young again?) - so long and patient that the drummer got RSI from kissing that cymbal. Hayes talks about the power of love and what it can do to a man (oh yes, definitely a man). Forget all the bargain basement imitations and ironic homilies which have flourished/floundered in the wake of this original slow eruption. Think as though you are hearing this sort of thing for the first time.

He is going to take Mr Webb's song down to "Soulsville." He concocts a story about a poor boy who goes to LA, meets a girl, gets married; the girl of course cheats on him, he finds out, walks out but can't stay out, crawls back because the power of LOVE was upon him. "And SEVEN TIMES this went down!" Hayes exclaims, "and seven times he came back" because the girl thinks "I've got a good thing - the FOOL!" before Hayes adds with an unironical grin "oh yeah, I know, you ladies, you sometimes like that" as if he's scolding a kindergarten class. Clearly as one with Kool Keith as regards the maternal body issue. But on the eighth occasion (he does not describe each of the previous seven in detail here, although apparently would do so sometimes in concert, to the pleasure of said "ladies") he turns into Old Shep - "you can kick a dog for so long, before he'll turn on you - poor old boy couldn't take it no more...THREE TIMES he turned back," but unlike the imprisoned self-denial junkies in Joyce's Dubliners, he actually breaks the bounds of the city and keeps on driving. Eventually he is on the road to ... guess where.

And the song begins. The rhythm gradually opens out, as if the musicians (as with the man) are finally able to breathe, to express. A previously invisible, pregnant string section also begins to make itself known.

The actual singing of the song itself occupies barely two of the 18 minutes, it's almost a sideline to the main issue of this piece of music. Once the song proper has been dealt with, Hayes then goes into soul scatting; unconsidered, random, out of tempo, a mind in turmoil. Trumpets enter. The rhythm section begins to come to the boil until finally vicious organ thrashes and drum implosions occur. Compare this with Miles Davis' "It's About That Time," recorded about a year previously, where Tony Williams is for the longest time obliged to keep a minimalist, cymbal ticking tempo, almost a metronome, audibly brooding with tension until suddenly, near the end, a chink of light appears in the music, Miles attacks his upper register and Williams suddenly explodes in near-arrhythmic orgasm for a few blissful moments before settling back in, now sated.

Eventually Hayes' voice exits; he has said all he needs to say. The orchestra continues to climax before, again, settling down into reflection and acceptance, everything finally converging on a single sustained C major organ chord - the end of a hymn, the end of a pilgrimage.

The expression of a passion for which words are insufficient, which theories cheapen.

I am dreaming a highway back to you.


posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
"I really needed you to make me laugh," he said, rubbing his eyes with his arm, "so much I couldn't stand it anymore."

I reached out and took his face in both hands. "Thank you for calling me," I said softly.

(Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto)


posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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