I experienced a little insecurity and embarrassment a few days ago when some hipsters on the Internets were talking about music that makes them fall down dead on the floor and I made a reference to a rather emo 80′s band, which reference was politely dismissed as the rest of the commenters resumed long discourses into Bob Dylan, obscure paintings at the Prado, and (for all I know) that coffee that’s made from redigested coffee beans roasted after being plucked from civet sh*t in the jungle. (And if you think I’m kidding about the coffee…I wish I weren’t). For a few hours, I felt tragically un-hip.
Then I got over myself. I’m a 40 year old in Nebraska, raised listening to all kinds of musical influences, from polka to acid rock, Pink Floyd to Vivaldi, Sioux powwow chanting to Latin mass music. I realized that music is highly personal, and that, with the exception of Conway Twitty, there are no wrong answers when it comes to loving music.
When I love a piece of music, I will listen to it until everyone around me screams for mercy. I will memorize it, I will sing along, I will dream about it. I remember my Rufus Wainwright phase, where his version of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” had me in tears, and I walked around humming “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” I listened to Dan Fogelberg’s “The Innocent Age” so many times that the album liner notes fell apart, and the CD I bought was played so many times that the print wore off the top. “I’m Not Dead,” by Pink blasted from my car stereo so regularly that my daughter knew all the words to “Dear Mr. President” before she memorized the alphabet.
For the past week, I have been listening to the album I downloaded from iTunes, “Raising Sand.” It’s a collaboration produced by T Bone Burnett (who produced, among other things, the soundtrack to “O Brother Where Art Thou” and “Walk the Line”) featuring Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
Talk about mind bending. Now, I’ve been a huge Zeppelin fan since I was tall enough to climb up on a kitchen chair and dial a rotary phone to call the radio station and request that they play “Black Dog.” I also love Alison Krauss–her voice is the purest thing I’ve ever heard. But Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing together? What?
I’m here to tell you this is an amazing compilation of music. Their harmonies are gorgeous, and it’s a chance to hear Robert Plant out of his element (in “Your Long Journey” he sings with Krauss with a simple autoharp for accompaniment, sounding for all the world like a pure-voiced hymn singer) and Alison Krauss in a whole new way (“Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson,” where she wails out a bluesy tune with drums in the background or “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” where she sings a gypsy-sounding song that chills the spine).
For me, though, the most heart-stopping song on the whole album is an adaptation of Townes Van Zandt’s song “Nothin.” My iTunes shows that I have played this song more than 30 times on the iPod in the last week. Over and over and over and over again, I cannot hear it enough times.
I found a video of it on Google; pardon the cheesy picture–just play it and listen. I’m not going to include all the lyrics, except the last two verses:
Being born is going blind
And buying down a thousand times
To echoes strung
On pure temptation
Sorrow and solitude
These are the precious things
And the only words
That are worth remembering