Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Junk" / Victoria Williams

Somehow this chick has totally escaped my radar up to now. I can't remember how I found this song (I suspect it was on someone else's iTunes playlist, as I was scouting out tunes for Hell Hath No Fury Week), but it has quietly begun to lodge itself on a high spot on my Rock Chicks playlist. 

So I toddle over her website and learn that Victoria Williams is very well connected -- she has been married in her time to both the Plimsouls' Peter Case and the Jayhawks' Mark Olson (Olson wrote the song "Miss Williams' Guitar" for her, not for Lucinda Williams) and she was ranked #89 on Paste Magazine's Top 100 Living Songwriters list -- not too shabby. Best of all, she hails originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, which makes it fitting that I should write about her on my friend Craig's birthday. (Happy birthday, Craig!)

You'll find this track on Williams' 2000 album Water to Drink. (Memo to self: buy this album NOW.) I love the lazy grit and sass of this song, not just in her voice but in those swampy guitar licks. In the middle, it wanders into downright psychedelic territory, and that Beatley mellotron loop at the end -- whoo-hee!

Yet the sneaky thinkg about this song is that it isn't storytelling, isn't a love letter -- it's a philosophical statement about temporal mutability. (Hunh? Come again?) "One man's junk is another man's jewel," she starts off in that froggy voice, and literal me, I start to think about recycling. (Love that second line: "Throw-outs may be polished into pearls.") She develops the idea in verse two: "One's man's junk is another man's project / Fixing up junk is a lifelong process." I must admit, I'm one of those this-thing-could-be-mended types myself.

And yes, the dreamy chorus at first sounds like this is a paean to eBay: "In the dreamy chorus -- "Wrap it up, / Send it off /  To a place where it's appreciated." How noble to give cast-offs a second life.

But note how, in the end of verse two, she describes this use-and-reuse as a human imperative: "Fixing up junk, that's what we're born to do -- junk!" She's not just talking about physical objects. In the bridge she shifts ground, singing about the metamorphosing relationships of people she knows: "Bonnie hung on to her darling, / Betty threw up and forgot him / Joey left his track full of Harleys." I suddenly re-hear verse one, see that "junk" means a discarded lover, who becomes a "jewel" to someone new -- someone who has learned how to fix up junk, perhaps.   

Learning how to let things go, how to redefine who we are and whom we love -- that's a life skill none of us have perfected yet.

It's an all-things-must-pass vision of life, which Williams sums up as "We share what was with each other / Pass around old molecules." These are downright trippy ideas, and the song mirrors that with its spacey musical effects.

By the second time she sings the chorus, she pushes that "wrap it up / send it off" concept a little farther, adding: "Trip to the moon / Wave goodbye / To yesterday's because and whys." Suddenly, all this recycling and passing around seems wonderfully liberating.    

Who knows how profound this song really is? All I know is that I'm flying on the phantasmagoric instrumentals, viscerally hooked on that funky beat.  Those crunchy discords, oh-so-slowly resolved -- I can't get enough of them.

One thing I do know:  I will never confuse Victoria Williams with Lucinda Williams again.


Beth Greene Thompson said...

Phantasmagorical indeed, thanks for introducing her music. Addictive!

NickS said...

Thank you. I hadn't heard of her, and I immediately like the playfulness of that track.

It also looks like there are cheap used copies of several of her CDs on Amazon, I'm ordering a couple . . .

One question for you: the juxtuposition of this and the previous post made me curious about songs which a new partner is offering sympathy that the person's confidence is still bruised and shaken from the previous relationship.

I'm thinking of something like the scenario if "Be My Number Two" from the perspective of the other person.

"Anyhow, I Love You" is close, but that seems more about building trust that building confidence.

Thinking a little more, "The Morning Of Our Lives" by Johnathan Richman, is almost exactly what I'm imagining, except that listening to it now, it feels like it reflects a basically adolescent emotional experience, and could be patronizing directed towards an adult (I hesitate to say that, since it is a lovely song, and I think most people can benefit from hearing, "I got faith in you. / Sometimes you don't have it in yourself, But i got faith in you." but a line like, "Then there's no need to think that other people can do things better than you can do 'em" seems less friendly now, as an adult, than it did when I first heard the song).

I ask because I was thinking about the emotions implied by, "fixing up junk" and realized that I feel like there should be songs mapping that emotional dynamic, but I was having a difficult time thinking of them.