excerpt from 'Feel Free: Essays' pp. 101–102, 104–105 (367 words)

excerpt from 'Feel Free: Essays' pp. 101–102, 104–105 (367 words)

part of

Feel Free: Essays

original language

urn:iso:std:iso:639:ed-3:eng

in pages

101–102, 104–105

type

text excerpt

encoded value

It was the kind of college gathering where I kept sneaking Blackstreet and Aaliyah albums into the CD drawer, and friends kept replacing them with other things.  And then there she was, suddenly: a piercing sound, a sort of wailing – a white woman, wailing, picking out notes in a non-sequence.  Out of tune – or out of anything I understood at the time as ‘tune’.  I picked up the CD cover and frowned at it: a skinny blonde with a heavy fringe, covered in blue.  My good friend Tamara – a real singer, serious about music – looked over at me, confused.  You don’t like Joni?  […]  Another friend, Jessica, pressed me again: You don’t like Joni?  She closed her eyes and sang a few lines of what I now know to be ‘California’.  That is, she sang pleasing, not uninteresting words, but in a strange, strangulated falsetto – a kind of Kafkaesque ‘piping’ – which I considered odd, coming out of Jess, whom I knew to have, ordinarily, a beautiful, black voice.  A soul voice. 

[…]

Aged twenty, I listened to Joni Mitchell – a singer whom millions enjoy, who does not, after all, make an especially unusual or esoteric sound – and found her incomprehensible.  Could not even really recognize her piping as ‘singing’.  It was just noise.  And, without troubling over it much, I placed her piping alongside all the interesting noises we hear in the world but choose, through habit or policy, to separate from music.

[…]

This is the effect that listening to Joni Mitchell has on me these days: uncontrollable tears.  An emotional overcoming, disconcertingly distant from happiness, more like joy – if joy is the recognition of an almost intolerable beauty.  It’s not a very civilized emotion.  I can’t listen to Joni Mitchell in a room with other people, or on an iPod, walking the streets.  Too risky.  I can never guarantee that I’m going to be able to get through the song without being made transparent - to anybody and everything, to the whole world.  A mortifying sense of porousness.

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excerpt from 'Feel Free: Essays' pp. 101–102, 104–105 (367 words)

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