Have One On Me - Joanna Newsom
One of the best things I have done as a father is, having read a rave review of Joanna Newsom's new album "Ys" in the Guardian, I bought it for my oldest daughter as a Birthday present. I'd never even heard it but the review was so good I trusted it. Also, Van Dyke Parks, co-writer with Brian Wilson of the legendary "Smile" lost album of the Beach Boys, did the orchestration for it and played the accordion. Not only did the recipient fall in love with the music of Ms Newsom, but so did my next two eldest daughters, and they've never looked back, buying all of her subsequent releases and her earlier one, and she has become their favourite recording artist.
Which explains why we drove to Bristol that day, just to see her. On that occasion, Roy Harper very movingly announced that she was doing all the things in her music that he had tried to do in the early seventies and was succeeding where he had failed.
"Have One On Me" is a case in point, exhibiting her wonderful harp playing counterpointed by her exquisitely delicate vocals, and the atmospheric orchestration. Her lyrics transport you to a Gormenghastian fantasy world, their power amplified by the gothic timbre of the music.
Her songs often contain layers of meaning which enchant with their magical depth, but which repay the researcher who delves into their labyrinthine musical poetry.
In this case, they refer to the nineteenth century intellectual, courtesan, dancer and actress Lola Montez, whose lovers included composer Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo, and Ludwig 1st, King of Bavaria. Even though she was Irish originally, name of Marie Gilbert, she became famous as Lola Montez, Spanish Dancer. She was also well-know for her liberal views, which eventually forced her to decamp from Europe, winding up living in the Bay area of San Francisco where Joanna Newsom grew up. Lola was a total original thinker and adventurer who refused to conform to the stereotypes of how a woman should behave, often shocking even her more outre audiences by performing her famous "spider dance" visibly wearing no underwear.
All of which, and more, is referred to in this tender song: Lola, having been made Countess of Landsfeld by Ludwig, (Daddy Longlegs she calls him, having captured him in her web) encouraged him to pursue liberal policies, offending the powerful Jesuits, who enforced their separation. Here she waits for him, her true love. And the plaintive sound of her broken heart, as Ludwig chooses his responsibilities of state over their love, echoes across the continents and centuries:
"Well daddy longlegs, are you? daddy longlegs, are you? daddy longlegs, are you proud?"
Read this as she sings rather than the words on the youtube link: you get the shape of her hurt, the musical poetry of her tune:
"From the courtyard, I floated in and watched it go down heard the cup drop; thought, "Well that's why they keep them around." the blackguard sat hard, down with no head on him now and I felt so bad 'cause I didn't know how to feel bad enough to make him proud By the time you read this I will be so far away daddy longlegs, how in the world am I to be expected to stay? in the night in the night, you may hear me call pa, stay your hand and steel your resolve stay where you are so long and tall Here's Lola--ta da!--to do her famous Spider Dance for you! lighten up your pockets! shake her skirts and scatter, there a shrieking, six-legged millionaire with a blight in his sockets Miss Montez the Countess of Lansfeld appealed to the King of Bavaria saying, "Pretty papa if you are my friend mister daddy longlegs, they are at it again can I see you?" Poor Lola! A tarantula's mounting Countess Lansfeld's handsome brassiere while they all cheer And the old king fell from grace while Lola fled to save face and her career You caught a fly, floating by wait for him to drown in the dust; drown in the dust of other flies whereby the machine is run and the deed is done heaven has no word for the way you and your friends have treated poor Louis may god save your poor soul, Lola (but there is nothing I adore apart from that whore's black heart.) Well, doesn't that just beat all! Miss Gilbert called to Castlemaine by the silver dollar and the gold glitter! well, I've seen lots but never, in a million years would think to see you, here Though the long road begins and ends with you I cannot seem to make amends with you, Louis when we go out they're bound to see you with me At night, I walk in the park with a whip between the lines of the whispering Jesuits who are poisoning you against me there's a big black spider hanging over my door can't go anywhere, anymore tell me, are you with me? I called to you, several times while the change took place and then arrived, all night and I died but all these songs when you and I are long gone will carry on mud in your eye You asked my hand hired a band "In your heart is all that you need; ask and you will receive," it is said I threw my bouquet and I knocked 'em dead Bottle of white, bottle of red helpless as a child when you held me in your arms and I knew that no other could ever love me as you loved but help me! I'm leaving! I remember everything down to the sound of you shaving-- the scrape of your razor
the dully-abrading black hair that remained when you clutched at me that night I came upstairs, half-dead and, in your kindness you put me straightaway in the cupboard with a bottle of champagne and then, later, on a train It was dark out, I was half-dead I saw a star fall into the sky like a chunk of thrown coal as if god himself spat like a cornered rat I really want you to do this for me will you have one on me? It was dark; I was drunk and half-dead and we slept, knocking heads sitting up in the star-smoking air knocking heads like buoys Don't you worry for me! have one on me! Meanwhile, I will raise my own glass to how you made me fast and expendable and I will drink to your excellent health and your cruelty will you have one on me? Helpless as a child when you held me in your arms and I knew that no other could ever love me-- From the courtyard, I floated in and watched it go down heard the cup drop; thought, "Well, that's why they keep them around."
the blackguard sat hard, down with no head on him now and I felt so bad 'cause I didn't know how to feel bad enough to make him proud Well daddy longlegs, are you? daddy longlegs, are you? daddy longlegs, are you proud?"
Exquisite. Intimate. Moving. Go, seek her out. She is addictive.