Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"In These Shoes?" / Kirsty MacColl

It's a bittersweet thing, to discover the wonderful music of someone you never knew about before -- and then to learn that he/she has already died. The more I explore this woman's music, the more poignant her death(she was hit by a speeding powerboat while scuba diving in Mexico in 2000) seems to me.

From what I can work out, Kirsty had lousy career timing and luck (nearly as bad as the Kinks on that score). Her cheery 1979 pop hit "They Don't Know" was instantly familiar to me, but I'll bet it was Tracy Ullman's 1983 cover that I really remember; Kirsty never got a lot of airplay in the States, despite high-profile collaborations with the Pogues and the Smiths. Somehow I never even heard her cover of the Kinks' "Days," which would definitely have got me interested. Those guest appearances on the French and Saunders show? I never saw those either, not until recently.

The album of hers I've mostly been listening to lately is her last one, Tropical Brainstorm, which had just been released at the time of her tragic death. It's full of sambas and other world music sounds, which combine very nicely with her sly, tart wit. The sort of chuckle in her voice as she sings "In These Shoes?" strikes a perfect balance -- on one hand, it seems she's making fun of fashion victim women in stilettos, but on the other, she's relishing their power to short-circuit male mind games.

Each verse is a different scenario, with some Indiana Jones/James Bond type marching up and asking Kirsty to go climb a mountain, ride off on a horse, or walk geisha-like on his back. I can just imagine the droll crook of her eyebrow as she replies every time, "I said 'In these shoes? / I don't think so' / I said 'Honey, let's do it here.'" Her velvety mezzo-soprano glides over the bossa nova beat, caressing each word with just a hint of irony ("I once met a man with a sense of adventure," "In walks a guy with a faraway look in his eyes," or "Won't you walk up and down my spine, /It makes me feel strangely alive.") But her invitation to "do it here" gets just the right sexy purr -- and you can bet they're gonna take her up on her offer. She just skewers these macho guys, lounging back and remaining totally, femininely in control.

There's something confiding and knowing in Kirsty MacColl's voice that makes me feel like I'm dishing the dirt with a girlfriend; she's not the competition, she's sharing the joke with me. I've got several of her songs now on a playlist I call simply "Chicks" -- it's full of tracks like this, sung by smart, confident women who aren't afraid to be who they are. (Bonnie Raitt, Aimee Mann, Jill Sobule, Thea Gilmore, Jenny Lewis, Susan Cowsill, Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, Dusty Springfield -- those kinds of chicks.) After a great weekend with my special fangirl girlfriends, I'm hungering for this kind of company. Kirsty seems like she'd have been fun to hang with -- I'm so sorry I never got the chance.

In These Shoes sample


Owen said...

Nice to see you like Kirsty, she's a great loss. She would've been 50 in October 2009 so there's going to be an extra special KirstyFest in Soho Square to celebrate and remember.

Crafty said...

Interesting timing...have been listening to her "Xmas" song with the Pogues (Fairytale of New York).

You should add Shelby Lynne to your Chicks list if she's not already there.


Carabella said...

Good to see that you are "getting" Kirsty, kid. She's one of my faves. Check out Kite and Titanic Days. Electric Landlady has some great bits as well. I love her one woman "Beachboys" harmonies, being one who loves to harmonize and am purdy darn good at it. "In these Shoes? I doubt you'd survive...and I said, "Honey, let's do it"