Read the Music by Beth Winegarner – An Engaging Musical Gift

Allison Rich's Gift to Me - Read the Music Book by Beth Winegarner 03-19-18

I was incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of Beth Winegarner’s collection of music essays titled, Read the Music as a thoughtful gift from a friend who warmly remarked, “it’s always good when a book finds its perfect owner.” She couldn’t be more right!

In the introduction, Winegarner professes the critical role of music in her life, calling it a “powerful emotionally restorative” and stating that interfacing with music taught her a great deal about her inner landscape to discover herself. This absolutely resonated with my own perspective about music and its impact on my life. Winegarner published hundreds of articles as a journalist in the 90s on musical subjects ranging from Tori Amos to doom metal, so she certainly has some experience in the field that I was eager to explore.

Beth cited a quote from an article from The War Against Silence web column which stated:

“Writing about music without writing about how it affects your life is, to me, an exercise in surreal opacity, like writing about sex or child-rearing without talking about love…”

That statement gave me pause to reflect on my own music journalism and to recognize opportunities where I might not have explored a featured recording as personally as I might have, and I’ll bear this in mind for future articles.

Beth’s writing style was enormously satisfying – she has a poetically-descriptive and impassioned flare when describing a piece of music, whether describing Maynard James Keenan’s vocals as, “smooth as blood over milk,” or Jeff Beck’s electric guitar as “bleating like exhaust from a cartoon Jetsons spaceship” or characterizing a string section as “sheer gossamer wings,” Winegarner always paints a brilliantly vivid musical scene for her readers. She even employs some purely poetic devices, like the elegant alliteration of her phrasing of the end of a song which “…comes to its crashing conclusion and is done, leaving us with spiraling spidery filigrees of feedback.” I can’t help but smile at that one.

What makes Beth’s reviews all the more engaging is her penchant for contextual examination. She characterizes artist’s works in relation to their inspiration, spanning a broad range of disciplines from Lovecraft, to Timothy Leary, to Crowley, the Necronomicon, deep listening, the Babylonian draconian goddess Tiamat, the Tolkien universe, the Hendrixian-inspired Sky Church of Seattle’s Experience Music Project, the Golden Ratio, Pagan spiritual lore, Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism, the spiritual vocal technique of konnakol (speaking in tongues), sexuality, Biblical mythology, and hypnosis! The book concludes with two essays on the industrial goth band Nephilim including a track-by-track analysis of the Zoon LP for an impressively in-depth examination of the work’s central themes of The Watchers and The Book of Enoch.

I appreciated the opportunity to learn the perspective of a female music essayist, as that facet of academia is often monopolized by male writers. I’d previously enjoyed reading essays by the great composer Pauline Oliveros and by New York art-pop heiress Laurie Anderson, but Beth’s book was my first glimpse at contemporary essays on rock music of the 90s so it was a real treat. And her impassioned remarks about Tori Amos, Days of the New, A Perfect Circle, and other important artists of the decade did what all great music essayists strive for – they inspired me to dust off my neglected CD shelf and revisit some of these wonderful recordings. The book felt like a thoughtful conversation over coffee with a brilliantly introspective friend.

I want to extend a special thanks to the woman who bestowed the book upon me. Librarians indeed give the best gifts!

Hit that long lunar note, and let it float.

Captain Beefheart

As Tom waits said told the Guardian UK last month, “Once you’ve heard Beefheart, it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood.”

With the recent passing of Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart I thought I should post something of value to both long-time listeners and to music lovers who have yet to discover his genius.

A number of books have been published about Beefheart, two by members of the Magic Band – Zoot Horn Rollo and John “Drumbo” French.  Beefheart: Though the Eyes of Magic (Drumbo’s book) is the best place to begin.

There are several documentary films on the Captain as well.  The best by far is BBC John Peel Night (1999) The Artist Formerly Known As Captain Beefheart.  To my knowledge it is not available on DVD but you can watch it on Youtube.

My favorite quote from the documentary is from Simpsons creator, Matt Groening.

“The first time I heard Trout Mask Replica, when I was 15 years old, I thought it was the worst drek I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! They’re just playing randomly!  But then I thought, Frank Zappa produced it, maybe I should give it another play. So I played it again, and I thought, it sounds horrible, but they mean it to sound this way. And about the third or fourth time it started to grow on me. And the fifth or sixth time, I loved it. And the seventh or eighth time I thought it was the greatest album ever made. And I still do.”

The film begins with the band’s performance of “Sure Nuff ‘n’ Yes I Do” live at Cannes in 1968.  Blues music fans will recognize the guitar riff from the classic “Rollin & Tumblin” and Willie Dixon’s “Down In The Bottom.”  The song also shares it’s opening lyric with the Grateful Dead’s “New, New Minglewood Blues.”  I’ve included videos of each of these songs below.  I believe the origin of the riff is the “New Minglewood Blues,” a re-write of “Minglewood Blues” recorded by Noah Lewis and Canon’s Jug Stompers in 1928.

Sure Nuff ‘n’ Yes I Do:

Howlin’ Wolf performs Down in the Bottom (at 01:25):

Jeff Beck & Imogen Heap’s incredible version of Rollin and Tumblin (click to watch on Youtube):

New New Minglewood Blues live:

UPDATE: After posting this blog, I realized that a recording of Beefheart performing “Rollin and Tumblin” live in 1968 was released on the Grow Fins rarities set.  Enjoy!

You can watch the Peel Night Beefheart documentary in four parts below.  R.I.P. Captain.

Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 10:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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