Thursday, April 22, 2004

Right now I'm working on a rather silly project that involves--whaddaya know?--buying some CDs. One of these is Dusty in Memphis, which I've owned before, when I was 19, and didn't get it at all. I sort of suspected I wouldn't get it until I was older, and I was pretty much right. I'm not exactly listening to it now, though, because when I picked it up tonight, I remembered certain songs from it: "Son of a Preacher Man," obviously (thanks to its inclusion on the Pulp Fiction OST I don't really have any overwhelming desire to hear it again, though it does sound really good); "Breakfast in Bed," the one song that killed me then and still does now; "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," which I've always gotten stuck in my head (that elongated lyric line on the chorus has an odd sticking effect; first couple times through I kept waiting for it to fucking resolve already but now I really like hearing it play out, like a long-distance drive that you grow to really enjoy the scenery of). If I weren't chronically broke at 20 I'm sure I'd still have this--if, of course, we eradicate the part about my entire apartment getting robbed the week before my 21st birthday (true story). I've almost bought Dusty in Memphis several times in the Jesus-it's-been-a-friggin'-DECADE-already since I had it previously. Two things prompted it: the aforementioned project (I'll tell you another time) and the fact that it's the subject of a book in Continuum's 33 1/3 series, the same one as my Sign 'O' the Times book. So after I ripped it onto my iBook, I threw the headphones on and decided to hear what I'd been missing all these years. And Jesus fuck--after "Just a Little Lovin'," which sounded just as I remembered it only with a lot more fondness having intervened (rightly), was "So Much Love." And that's about it, because that's what I've spent most of tonight listening to, on autorepeat.

There's something that happens when Dusty opens up on certain vowel sounds--the held "oh" of "So" in "I've got so much love to give you and the rising "ay" of "Baby" she punctuates the chorus with, in particular--that hold almost unfathomable reserves of passion; she sounds like she's flooding over, just barely able to keep herself contained. She keeps hitting those notes, inflaming them anew every time out, digging deeper into them with every iteration. The production, meanwhile, is dated as fuck, and as such it limits her (I'm sure I'm using this wrong, sorry) timbral range--the actual physical presence of her voice can't overwhelm or get right up close to the ear the way it could on a modern production, so there's this scrim in front of it, nylon with paisley trim, that holds it at a distance, and a lot of the drama that results is Dusty trying to break through that scrim and we-the-listener trying to do the same, and that tension creates sparks, makes the song an event as well as a fantastic vocal performance + imaginative arrangement + expert song. In 1969, when this was undoubtedly state-of-the-art production, it probably felt similarly because of its immediacy, but that immediacy is at a remove with 35 years' time, and to my ear that remove is what makes "So Much Love" great--makes it distinctly something else, a thing to approach and peer into and be wowed by, a performance that because it is constructed and not lifelike (I'm speaking of the effect, yes I know they cut the fucker live w/rhythm section and added overdubs later, I read the liner notes too), can tell us something about life that we can't get from simple documentary or hyperdimensionality. It's a prism, a version, a dimension, and it's acute; when I was 19 it seemed not enough, and now at 29 it seems exactly enough.

Especially when she gets to the bridge, and we get this: "You show your love in so many ways/I'm gonna love you for the rest of my days"--and the second line just keeps rising, she approaches the mouth of the dam and throws herself into the air, she doesn't care where she falls, and when she maneuvers the word "days" back on itself, a tiny, decisive fold, almost bluesy but something else in addition to that, something wholly her own--it's devotion, complete and present in front of you. That little note can convince you--it certainly convinces me--that this is totally crucial, that she's breaking her own heart to demonstrate how full of love it is, how it's about to spill over and then does. It's one of those moments so amazing, so overwhelming, that I can't believe it took me ten years to finally get it. I'm just glad I finally did.