Monday, April 11, 2005

Some of us can only live in songs of love and trouble

In an interview printed in Chickfactor #10, Stephin said:

Most of my dream vocalists are imaginary. I like to think up new vocalists who have never lived before and imagine their characteristics. This is of course how I make friends as well.

In the non-fictional world, one of Merritt's favorite vocalists is Billie Holiday, whom you may remember was beckoned to be his "only friend."

Referring again to the 69 Love Songs booklet, Stephin was questioned about singers:

Daniel Handler: Billie Holiday, a.k.a. Lady Day, joins what other vocalists in the pantheon for you? [...] What about Ella Fitzgerald?
Stephin: She doesn't have much shtick.

I hesitate to call Billie Holiday's life a shtick (and I don't want to imply that that is what Stephin is doing), but for sure, she is the person who first comes to mind when you think "tragic jazz singer." Holiday's insanely turbulent life, marked with enough troubles to fuel two dozen Lifetime movies, undoubtedly provided an extra layer of emotion to her performances, and she would be certainly at home in Merritt's lyrical world of alcoholics and sad lovers.

The chilling "Strange Fruit," mentioned in the Magnetic Fields' "Love Is Like Jazz," was Holiday's signature piece - a powerful and disquieting song about lynched African-Americans, who were the "strange fruit hanging from poplar trees." The line "Hanging in the willow trees like the dead," from "Summer Lies," brings up similar disturbing imagery. The second selection this week is "God Bless the Child," a song co-written by Holiday and cited as Merritt's favorite recording of 1941.

By request, "Le Tourbillon" is back up:


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