Hey there! Welcome to Teatro Triste del Clown.
This site started out as something else and then a few years ago, we got it into our head that we were going to write about every song in our music collection. Memo and I have been doing this for years – I’m going forward in the alphabet and just recently started on the letter J and Memo, as it happens, is also on the letter J. As of this writing. It might be a while before I update this pinned announcement again, so, well, yeah.
Our Webmaster, Christoph, joins us from time to time.
The Index of what we’ve done so far keeps growing.
If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line.
Track Six from 2006′s Humid Teenage Mediocrity 1992-1996 was originally recorded for the 1994 Demo Boy Grinder Sessions. The demo was never released “…but [it] contains the recording session from which “My Cat” and “Swollen” were taken to make the 7″s. This was the very first recorded version of what’s become an iconic Jack Off Jill song. Not only is it my Better Half’s™ favourite song (and “had to have” ring-tone;) it is heavily represented in the Jack Off Jill catalogue and most written about in my JOJ Series.
So let’s listen to the remastered version of the Original 1994 recording.
…and the first known live performance in 1993
Live at Woodstock:
One of the great singers of our times, Joe Cocker may not have had the consistent chart success that his immense talent deserves, but his gorgeous, expressive voice and whole body delivery has made him absolutely unforgettable.
Cocker’s reading of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” feels like an entirely different tune from the Ringo Starr-sung original. Where Starr was cool and relaxed, one gets the feeling that Cocker really genuinely needs his friends help to get by. Starr appreciates having his friends there. Cocker isn’t going to make it through the night without his. Devo’s take on “Satisfaction” may be the only cover I can think of that surpasses it in his regard.
I really should have more of Cocker’s work in my library, but sometimes the lines one draws around what will and won’t be in a collection are entirely arbitrary. Sorry, Joe.
The Joboxers enjoyed abouta year of intense fame in England that led to one minor hit in the United States – the ridiculously catchy, northern soul tinged “Just Got Lucky.” With their throwback ‘depression chic’ look, they fit in on MTV with, for example, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the Stray Cats (two other bands which also deserve more respect).
Though “Just Got Lucky” barely cracked the US BIllboard Top 40, the song has since achieved something of a cult status. The good songs often do. If The Joboxers faded quickly into obscurity, they can at least be satisfied in knowing that they made at least one indelible contribution to international pop music.
In England, they had several major hits, including their first song, “Boxerbeat,” presented here for your amusement and edification:
I can’t find the gorgeous Van Dyke Parks arrangement of “Cosmia” for Ys, so there’s that live version (that’s pretty close) but also there’s this great alternate version from her EP Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band:
“Cosmia” is a song of death and mourning for a dear friend, as the lyrics and her delivery will make completely clear. Its also a song about the mystery of what happens after death (“Oh Cosmia, what have you seen?”). The main musical theme (which is later vocalized as “And all those lonely nights down by the river”) is introduced fairly early and serves as a strong, haunting hook.
Joanna Newsom allegedly has a new album coming out this year but, alas, we’ll have to wait until I wrap back around to the letter “J” again in a few years. She’s one of this century’s brightest new musicians and I hope we hear many, many more songs from her.
Fan video with lyrics:
I purchased Ys on CD shortly after it was released. Back then, I was still using my old iPod shuffle. Since it only held about 250 songs and since all of the songs on Ys were long, I only added “Emily,” “Monkey & Bear” and “Cosmia.” I probably listened to “Sawdust & Diamonds” and “Only Skin” once or twice, but “Only Skin” was just too long for me to absorb in a casual manner. Indeed, its a song that demands a close listen and you should listen to it all the way through. Once the song gets its hooks into you you’ll want to listen to it over and over again and won’t want to be interrupted.
There are several blog entries that attempt to envelope the meaning of “Only Skin” with varying degrees of success. Newsom has said that Ys addresses four major events in her life and that “Only Skin” is the song where she explores the connections between those events.
Certain elements of “Only Skin” point towards the songs Newsom wrote for Have One On Me, but others are tied to classical folk song structures. The male/female conversation at the end – one that suggests a dead man and a live woman having a conversation – is an oft-borrowed structure. In fact, the Decemberists also used this structure on “Yankee Bayonet”. Newsom makes references to themes of nature, childhood and war (some of which connect directly to other songs – for example, this song refers to a swimming hole that would not have been out of place on “Emily”) and most especially the burden of being a woman. Like her character on Have One On Me, this character gives and gives and gives to a man – like she’s pouring her love into a bottomless pit of need (this is especially clear during the aforementioned conversation). She doesn’t get back nearly what she puts in. Newsom was starting to make sense of this on “Only Skin” and later turned it into an entire album.
Strongly recommended. This song won’t let go of you once it has you.
Fan video with Lyrics:
Musically, “Sawdust & Diamonds” is the simplest of the songs on Ys. Its basically just Newsom singing and accompanying herself on her trademark harp.
While “Sawdust & Diamonds” is a fairly well-loved song, I haven’t given it a whole lot of time because its sandwiched between “Monkey & Bear” and “Only Skin,” which are both amazing. The lyrics seem to have to do with performing and with being tied to strings like a marionette.
Track Five from 2006′s Humid Teenage Mediocrity 1992-1996 was originally released on the 1995 demo Cannibal Song Book but was never officially released until this compilation.
It’s a short, sweet and to the point rant about the RIAA affiliated Recording Industry labels. As our Unofficial Song Interpretation committee pointed out:
“… this song is about the music industry and how it kills the true meaning when artists try to express themselves. They obviously tried to fuck Jessicka up the ass at one point or another…”
Taking into account the aggressive lyrical delivery and angry musical performance, we can undoubtedly ascertain the rage and resentment felt by a frustrated group of talent musicians that refuse to be dissuaded and jaded by the corporate money making machine we lovingly call the Ridiculously Insane Asshole Alliance (RIAA.)
On that note, I’ll take the last few remaining puffs on my Private Label hand rolled cigar from Miami’s famed Calle Ocho while sipping my Limited release blended whiskey high ball as I enjoy this fan video…
Track Four from 2006′s Humid Teenage Mediocrity 1992-1996 is most likely the remastered version from the 1996 unreleased Demo Cockroach Waltz since it is heavier than the released version on their debut album and its sound and arrangement seem fall in between the the “Rock” and “Extra Metal” versions from 1993′s Children 5 and Up.
Here’s a Guitar Cover proving that I am not the only male that loves this group enough to play along to their songs.
Acapella Vocal Cover
We interrupt your reading pleasure to bring you The Sad Clown with the Golden Voice
I love the sad, terrifying, and cathartic fable “Monkey & Bear” beyond all other songs by Joanna Newsom (though the title track of Have One On Me rises in my estimation with every listen and may one day take this song’s place in my heart). I see it, to some extent, as a song about an exploitative relationship – Monkey takes advantage of Bears’ dancing skills to make money, ostensibly to “pay the bills” for the both of them, but really in the same way that the Pigs exploit the other animals in Animal Farm.
The story opens on a farm where Monkey takes advantage of the chaos in the wake of a group of horses escaping to effect an escape for himself and Bear. He sells her on an idea of a mythical destination where she’ll be able to take off her performing costume and leash, but persuades her to keep it on so they can make a living while they travel. The suggestion is that he has no intention of ever getting them to a land where she can just live as bear.
The conclusion of the song – both lyrical, musically and in terms of Newsom’s delivery is terrifying. It sounds like Bear goes off into the ocean to bathe but is torn apart by the waves and rocks and eventually eaten by minnows. On the other hand, it can also be read as Bear finally stripping off her costume in the ocean and becoming a true bear again, devouring those minnows. Either way, its a return to savagery and Bear has either found freedom through death or through rejecting Monkey.
I don’t think its a coincidence that this is a song about a female performer being exploited by her male partner (Monkey refers to Bear as “my bride” early in the song). This resonates for me with some of the themes on Have One On Me (again, particularly the title track). You can be a powerful woman (as strong as a Bear) and still find yourself in an exploitative relationship because of love if you’re not careful.
For this reason, I like to believe that Bear broke free of her bonds at the end and went off to seek her fortune on her own in the wild, but I’m not convinced that’s what happens.
One of my favorite production elements of this song is production quality of the opening stanza – a vocal harmony effect that reminds me of old, old Disney movies (I recall a similar effect being used in Wizard of Oz). It evokes an old-timey feeling that sets the song firmly in the world of popular fable.
Altogether, a career highlight from Newsom among many career highlights – and she’s barely at the start of her career!