“We met through our boyfriends, Peter Barnowsky and Robert Mapplethorpe…. In the Summer of ’68, we became friends. At first Patti and I spent our afternoons drawing. When I started to photograph her, it seemed as easy as sharing colored pencils. It was simple. Patti liked being photographed…. Patti and I were friends the way children are friends. With Chirpy little voices, we daydreamed a future. I found a cassette Patti and I made in ’69. We were making a long-since lost 8mm movie in my tenement apartment in Brooklyn.”
-Judy Linn from her book of photographs, Patti Smith 1969-1976
Popularity: 2%"> Prends Donc Courage,” Savoy replied. Twenty-six and “a bit lost” at the time, Savoy heard this “haunting voice” over an LP and was immediately entranced.
But the melody Savoy heard that day was more ancient –at least 200 years more so.
“A lot of early Cajun music came from when the radio came to Louisiana,” Savoy explained. “They’d hear a song on the radio and say I like that and they’d play it on a guitar and accordion… leaving out half the words, changing the arrangements and singing their own interpretation of the music, in French!”
Essentially, Cajun music evolved as a musical conversation. Songs were a form of retelling or oral history. But with Prends Courage, Falcon was standing on the shoulders of many more giants then she realized.
After some internet sleuthing and a bit of help from record producer Joe Boyd, who was passing through town, I pulled together a surprising musical lineage to Savoy’s inspiration: this early Cajun recording had its roots in a Croatian folksong, that came to Cleoma Falcon by way of 19th century American ditty and the last Queen of Hawaii—Lili’uokalani.
“Aloha ‘Oe” –the iteration that Falcon heard was Lili`uokalani’s. Legendarily, the queen had composed this lover’s farewell during a horseback ride on the windward side of Oahu in 1878. Her inspiration came from watching a mixed couple taking leave of one another. Later she sang the song in her own farewell to her kingdom when Hawaii was incorporated into the United States, the 50th state, in 1959.
Lili`nokalani’s friend Charlie B. Wilson later pointed out that the tune of the verse resembled “ Rock beside the Sea,” a ditty that American church music composer Charles Coozet Converse came up with in 1857. A Wikipedia entry indicates that Converse himself borrowed the melody from a Croatian folk song “Sedi Mera Na Kanen.”
Check the melodies out for yourself to hear the similarities.
Cleoma Breaux and Joe Falcon’s rendition of “Prends Donc Courage
1911 recording of Aloha ‘Oe by Madam Alapai
Tamburica 5 plays ” Sedi Mara na kamen studencu
Through its centuries’ long morph; the song has remained one of farewell –either to a lover or a country. Converse waxed nostalgic about the “winds of morn” and signs of spring on his “lone rock by the sea.” Lili`nokalani talked of “sweet memories” and how “true love” never departing, all amid the “`ahihi lehua” flowers.
Falcon’s version was the farewell that strayed the furthest from the original Croatian version. Hers has no sappiness. She doesn’t dwell on the leave taking but instead calls for courage, not just on her own part but that of her lover’s too. She sings,“Take courage for it is the end of the year and I am going to go away with you. A lot of hearts are going to be broken but we must be strong and brave and go.”
And it was that determined sentiment that the then 26-year-old Ann Savoy heard that convinced her to see Les Cajunes at the National Folk Festival in Washington DC. There she met her husband Marc who is one of the last traditional Cajun accordion makers. The two moved to Eunice, Louisiana and had four children—all but one of who—is in a Cajun band. The family is widely considered to have begun a revival in interest in Cajun music — all born from a Croatian farewell song.
Also, check back for an audio slideshow on Ann Savoy’s life and love of music, to be uploaded soon.
But please listen also to this! Mina wouldn’t fall at everyone’s feet:
In the song, he says, “Darling, what happens tonight, I look at you and to me, it is like the first the time…You are my love’s sentence that started but never ended…You are like the wind who brings roses and violins…My yesterday, my tomorrow, my always.” She replies, “Words, words, only words…roses and violins, tonight give it to someone else!” (brava!)
A fire-red hair girl, Ornella Vanoni broke the wall of success by that time, and tears followed by gloomy smiles would come along very easily listening to her soft voice.
She says, “What’s happened, what’s happened? It happened that I fell in love with you…”
But I think her best song is “Rossetto e Cioccolato” (Lipstick and Chocolate):
“It takes passion, a lot of patience, raspberry syrup and a drizzle of unconsciousness…Cook over low heat, mixing with feeling black stocking and white milk…It’s almost done. Throat satisfied, that’s how you do and you chew it slowly…for the heart and the palate.”
Could you find a better recipe for this hungry city I’m now in, San Francisco? Maybe, for once, instead of choosing cucumbers from San Francisco’s Ferry Building…
But these ladies haven’t been dreaming and waiting all day long. They got angry, very angry. Ask Loredana Berte and she’ll tell you that she is “someone for whom the war is never ended!” and would have ordered her man to tell her every night “Sei Bellissima!” (You are beautiful). Here you have her strong and hoarse scream:
Times change and a new wave streamed in. Overseas people were already starting to shake their hips and Italy wanted exactly the same! So while in the US, Elvis Presley was already called a king, we had our lovely Caterina Caselli starting to bewitch the crowd.
Ok, ok so her song is a cover from The Monkees, but what a performance! And Italians still needed a little push and to find their own Janis Joplin.
But of course someone with a clearer idea was already thinking about a very particular dance. Someone like the “forever-blond” Raffaella Carra’:
“It’s called Tuca Tuca
I invented it (the dance)
to tell you
I like I like I like you
Here are five beautiful pearls of Italian music that hopefully will leave you with a little smile.
Popularity: 1%"> We were first introduced to the soulful sounds of Kelley McRae while in Durham, North Carolina as she played at the Pinhook with Humble Tripe and Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes. Kelley and her husband Matt left their home in Brooklyn and are continuing to travel around the United States in their VW van playing at venues and in people’s homes. We’ve been keeping in touch and now that Kelley and Matt will be coming to the Bay Area, California the last week of September through the first week of October 2011, we’ve asked her a few questions about her Great VW Camper Van Tour of 2011, 10 girls on her turntable, and some insights into stories from the road and her own life for The Hidden World of Girls Series. (Left: Kelley and Matt performing at the Pinhook in March 2011)
What started your interest in music and in songwriting?
There are a lot of small moments that I remember from growing up that I think fostered my love of music and had a huge hand in the kind of songwriter I would become. I have a distinct memory of the first time I heard the song ‘Summertime.’ I was five years old, it was programmed into a small electronic piano we had, and I remember having a feeling like I had discovered something magical. I also loved the three part harmonies I heard in the old Southern hymns at my grandparent’s Baptist church in Vicksburg, MS. And on car trips my dad had this Don Williams tape we would listen to all the time. There I was, probably 8 years old, and I would sit in the middle seat of the car between my two brothers just singing my heart out with Don about ‘The Only Game in Town.’ So music was always around growing up, and I always loved to sing, but had never considered songwriting until I took a guitar class my junior year of college. I was studying acting, so I took this class for fun, but as soon as I learned three chords all I wanted to do was write songs. I always compare it to falling in love.
So we hear you’re coming to the West Coast at the end of the summer! What dates will you arrive and where are you headed afterwards?
We arrive on the West Coast the last weekend of August and will be making our way down the coast, from Vancouver to San Diego (and many stops in between!), through September and October. I’m currently booking venues and house shows and things are starting to take shape! You can see all our show dates here: www.kelleymcrae.com/shows and you can request a house show by emailing me at kelley[@]kelleymcrae.com.
You grew up in Mississippi, transitioned to Brooklyn, and now you’ve been hitting the road in a VW. What inspired your house tour around the United States?
Last July, my husband Matt (who happens to be an incredible guitarist) and I went up to the Catskill Mountains to escape the heat of our unair-conditioned little apartment in Brooklyn, but also to do some thinking. I had been in New York City for 7 really wonderful years – I met and was mentored by some incredible musicians, signed with a small label and recorded two albums, and toured the eastern half of the US and in Ireland, England, Germany and Sweden. But more than any of these things, as is true for a lot of artists, my time in New York City was spent trying to pay the rent. I spent as much time as I could playing music, but 40 hours a week were spent at day jobs, and I was really exhausted. Matt and I were talking about all of this on our trip to the Catskills and we found this unbelievably gorgeous valley where we were hanging out talking and playing our guitars. It was there in this little valley that I first had the initial idea for the tour. I said something to Matt, basically to the effect of ‘What if we quit our jobs, lived in a van and just toured the country playing music?’ Matt was game, and so the idea built over the next few months until it became a reality: ‘The Great VW Camper Van Tour.’ We sold everything, left our apartment and have been living in our VW Camper Van for 5 months now. We’ve played 75 shows and driven 17,000 miles and we’re still going! It has been amazing.
Could you describe to us how house shows normally work?
House shows really are the heart of this tour. We will probably end up doing around 150 shows this year, and 100 of those shows will be in the living rooms, backyards, front porches, back porches, decks, carports and sun rooms of people all over the US. And because this is a new thing for most people, we try to make it an awesome experience and we like to keep it really simple. The host of the show invites around 20 – 30 friends over for a night of music. You don’t need a sound system and you don’t have to deal with money, we simply put out a $10 suggested donation bucket out with our CD’s and Tshirts. We usually do one longer set or two short ones. It’s a really relaxed, intimate environment and perfect for the kind of music we play. I love house shows because you really get to know people, you never know what you’re walking into and they have the potential to be magical!
How many people travel with you on the VW tour?
Just me and Matt!
What are three aspects you enjoy most while traveling on your VW tour?
1. The thrill of living out my dream of playing music full time. I’m probably working harder than I ever have in my life, but I feel really free. 2. Getting to travel and see this friggin’ gorgeous country! 3. Meeting so many extraordinary people and hearing their stories. I have been blown away by the kindness and generosity we have consistently encountered on the road.
What are some difficulties as well (if any)?
Well, we spend a lot of nights sleeping in Walmart parking lots. Which is about as glamorous as it sounds. It’s hard to not have your own bathroom, shower, etc. It’s hard not to have your own space in general. But, it makes it possible, and so it’s totally worth that sacrifice.
Throughout The Hidden World of Girls Radio and Multimedia Series, we’ve been learning about the sometimes untold stories of women from around the world. Are there some stories that you’ve encountered while on the road through the people you’ve met?
I’m hesitant to give you all the details, because it’s not my story to tell, but the host of our show in Minneapolis was an American Indian and the story he told us of his grandmother’s life took my breath away. When I told him that this story was remarkable, he said that, sadly, there were so many stories just like it in the American Indian community. I think that the stories of these women – women who were taken from their families at a young age, women who were married off to white men twice their age and I’m sure many, many other things that we now consider shocking – need to be told.
Do any personal stories come to mind that you’d like to share of being a girl and growing up, stories of coming of age, crossing the line, or changing the tide?
I have a song from my first album called ‘What Ya Get Is What Ya See.’ It’s a song about being 14 years old in Starkville, MS and feeling like my worth was totally wrapped up in what I looked like: “I’m not pretty like the girls on TV / My face won’t open any doors for me / So I’ve stopped dreaming ‘bout my destiny / Cause what ya get is what ya see.” As a girl growing up in in the deep South, and then as an actress in college, I believed that the prettier and skinnier I was, the more worth I had. It took me a really, really long time to get beyond that 14 year old perspective. It was actually songwriting and a 70 year old sailor in Baltimore that first started changing the tide.
I moved to Baltimore the year after I graduated college and ended up getting my first gig at the Barista Café, a little coffee shop on the harbor, every Thursday night. I eventually gained a small following, a rag-tag group of down to earth, lovely and bizarre people. The coffee shop was right next to a dock where a lot of people lived on their boats. One of those people was a wild looking sailor with a long white beard and long white hair named Richard. Richard had a foul mouth, a wicked sense of humor and a soft spot for people he considered to be ‘real people.’ He came to my first show at the café and never missed one for the next year. He painted a backdrop and set up lights for me at the shows, he pushed me to go further with my songs and singing, he got all glassy eyed at the right moments of sad songs and he eventually set up a weekly recording session for me in Pennsylvania.
As I played these first shows to Richard and my rag-tag group of friends, I began to feel truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time. Part of it was that as a songwriter, I found that the more I was truly myself, both in my songs and on stage, the more people responded. I didn’t have to be a skinnier, prettier version of me – I could just be me. I can’t tell you how good that felt. It was an immense relief. It was under the loving and nurturing eye of Richard and this group of Baltimore friends that I began to believe that I was beautiful, because they believed I was beautiful. It is one of the most profound gifts I’ve ever been given.
Girls On Kelley’s Turntable
|Patty Griffin – ‘Long Ride Home’
Patty has a way of capturing loneliness and regret that is stunningly beautiful. She will break your heart every freakin’ time.
|Lucinda Williams – ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’
This is the title track of one of my favorite albums of all time. I love the Southern imagery in this song, especially having grown up in Mississippi.
|Aretha Franklin - ‘The House That Jack Built’
I am a huge Aretha fan and this song has been stuck in my head for weeks. Her voice and energy are ridiculous.
|Gillian Welch - ‘Orphan Girl’
This is a song that people will be singing 100 years from now.
|Jenna Nicholls – ‘Holy Moses’
I heard Jenna perform in NYC and nearly fell out of my chair. She is a truly incredible songwriter and has one of those effortlessly cool, powerful, feminine, unique voices.e.
|Kasey Chambers – ‘Barricades and Brick Walls’
Kasey has an incredible story and is the real deal. She writes some serious old school ass-kicking country songs..
|Nina Simone – Her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’
A haunting cover of an amazing song.
|Mary Gauthier - ‘Mercy Now’
Mary is one of those songwriters that everyone who really cares about music should know. Bob Dylan is a fan if you need a second opinion! I got to know her at a songwriting workshop in Costa Rica where she totally kicked my ass in the best possible way. I’m a better songwriter because of her.
|Laura Marling - ‘Rambling Man’
This song totally stopped me in my tracks. It has a fierceness that you don’t hear enough in female songwriting and it is totally inspiring to me. And the video is perfect.
|Susan Enan – ‘Bring On the Wonder’
I was a huge fan of Susan before we became neighbors and good friends in Brooklyn. This song was featured on the show ‘Bones’ and gave her some much deserved love and attention from around the world.
Popularity: 1%"> annual music issue of The Believer recently hit store shelves. It includes an interview Davia did with Martha Wainwright:
THE BELIEVER: What got you started writing?
MARTHA WAINWRIGHT: I had started watching Rufus write songs, and he was playing a weekly show at this small venue and had asked me to sing some backup, so I had been onstage with him. I enjoyed that so much that I then pushed myself to write my own songs, to see if I could, being surrounded by songwriters and knowing a few chords on the guitar. At first I didn’t plan on being a musician, but then through those first couple of songs I realized it was the easiest thing for me to do. And it’s good to do the thing that’s easiest and most natural, rather than fight it.
You can read the entire interview by purchasing a copy at the McSweeney’s Store.
And here is Martha performing a song written by her mother, Kate McGarrigle: