(written earlier in the year while still at sea...)
Neko Case is not a new discovery for me. Granted, everyone else found her before I did. She came to me as so many musical discoveries do: on a mix cd Mason made for me. I can't remember which one, but on it he had put "Deep Red Bells". At first it only sort of caught my attention, but then there is that moment when she asks, "Where does this mean world cast its cold eye? Who's left to suffer long about you? Does your soul cast about like an old paper bag past empty lots and early graves?" And you are swept off your feet...
She stole my heart but I haven't accumulated near enough of her music. Mostly I've listened to her through other people's collections. This is more accidental. I always think I have more of her music than I do. I used to have more, but other than a couple of random songs, the only album of hers I have on my computer (my musical lifeline out here in the lonely ocean) is of her live from Austin. I've listened to this whole album before, but tonight something about it is sending chills up the back of my neck.
This shouldn't be surprising. She has that voice. If ever a voice could sing haunted, she is the one. And you know this when you hear her the first time. It isn't a secret that sneaks up on you slowly, but somehow this realization feels fresh and new listening tonight.
Maybe this is partly because of the intentions with which I began listening to her. I'm working on a mix CD for Ben, which is difficult since we share most of our music already and I haven't really gotten much new music lately. And what music I do have that he doesn't has already gone on a thousand other mixes, so trying to make a new one that doesn't just sound like one of the old ones is a challenge. I suppose I should just wait, but I like making mixes when I am out to sea and feel double compelled this time for some reason that I have to succeed in this mission. Anyway, trying to sort out what music I got from Ben and what came from other sources, I sorted iTunes by 'date added' to help me remember what came from where and anything that I thought came from another source and hadn't been shared on our home computer yet got scoured for potential songs. Enter Neko. Both from this aforementioned cd and also from a song she did for a tribute album for the movie Nashville (we already know how obsessed I've been with that lately). I grabbed "Favorite" and threw it in the possible mix pile. "Favorite" sounds sweet and nice, right?
Burnt houses and warm deer blood soaking through her dress in her dream... maybe not right for a mix cd for your sweetheart. Great song, but why don't I go back and see if I can find a sweet love song by Ms. Case instead? And with such intentions I reentered her songs. Searching for a love song, the voodoo and magic came screaming out at me. Some how, on this listen the creepiness jumped out at me. Good creepiness, I'm totally digging it, but damn. Wow. It isn't enough that it just unearths the emotions she puts into the songs, but it reminds me of seeing her live.
She performed a few years ago at the Bowery Ballroom, which is one of my favorite live venues and it wasn't likely I'd have the chance to see her play anywhere that small again anytime soon. Several friends of mine were going and I got a ticket too. Simple enough, but Ben and I were broken up but both going. I am certain the situation was more complicated than this, as he will later remind me, but this was complicated enough. We hadn't broken up because we were no longer in love, rather we were driving each other crazy and at least from my side I didn't know how to make it better and felt like I was making things worse. So there I am with a group of friends and a boy I'm in love with but broken up from. He's told me since that that night was insanely difficult for him, so I know I wasn't alone in standing there blown away by the music but having no idea what to do with my hands or how close to stand or how to act at all. The situation itself was so intense by itself, but now listening closely again I'm reminded how this voice must have heightened the tension and electricity. I sort of feed off of awkward terrifying energy (a survival trait learned through years of being unimaginably self-conscious; otherwise I would be institutionalized) , so I also remember that night as exhilarating at the same time as I remember it as painful and confusing.
All said, Neko Case making my hair stand on end shouldn't come as any surprise to me and maybe she requires special consideration anyway for putting on a mix cd anyway. Listening and feeling the creepiness almost makes me want to watch creepy movies or read spooky books. I don't really go for gore and think most horror movies really miss the mark in terms of really making that mood without just going in for the kill. Hitchcock, of course, knew how and The Twilight Zone did too, but I can't think of any movie that really does what I want right now.
In the ideal world where I get to decide who sings together, Neko Case and Emmylou Harris get together and make this mind blowing other-worldly gothic southern rock opera. Actually, I've long wanted to put Emmylou together with Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement, and Nanci Griffith for a gothic southern rock opera. They all have that crazy warble in their voice that lets them sounds both sugar sweet and tormented. Neko Case doesn't have the warble, but can you imagine her doing a duet with Emmylou Harris? Let's make this a three disk project. These are the main women on it, but let's have backup harmonies from Dolly Parton, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, and Natalie Maines . For a little balance, let's bring in Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Raul Malo, and Toby Keith. Hell, as long as this is my fantasy, let's also throw in Joel Gibb and the guy from Songs: Ohia. Daniel Lanois as producer. Sort of like a mix between Wrecking Ball and The Red Headed Stranger, but darker. I mean really haunting and cold spooky. Start spare and build, piling harmonies and layers on, going from whispers to screaming and howls. Not every song, but enough. Back and forth between too many voices and instruments and spare, bare-bones sound. It has to be recorded in New Orleans, during a hurricane. Ok, just kidding about the hurricane part. Before, during, and after a thunderstorm.