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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Only Exception

Guess it makes sense if I promised a particular mentor NOT to write in this blog (and instead start stashing away words toward articles that will appear in old-fashioned Print Vehicles, the unfortunate moniker of magazines in our common era with its equally poorly named need for Content Provision) to at least give this entry (because it seems that once one has the habit of writing in this thing called a blog -- a useful cache-tout for the ideas we all have in our day, little tugs at the unconscious sparking out toward the walls and ending up, instead, captured within the frame -- something of the notating habit sticks) the forgiving title of my latest and happiest recent discovery in the world of music, and for all I know I am charting exactly the sine wave of some horribly predetermined pop sensibility so that when I speak of a band, it may already be etched deep in your mind, or at least in the consciousness of some lurking demographic unknown to me --

as if I were saying, back in the time of the Kennedys, yes, but did you happen to get a load of John F.'s WIFE? --

but all that said, I just saw, again from the same bunker-like physical locale in which I get to spy on contemporary culture, a video which speaks to so many themes that seem to have obsessed me recently, or to speak more truly, in these last couple of years finishing up this LOLA novel, that I just have to sing out its praises  --

"The Only Exception" -- by Paramore -- a song which strikes me as a latterday heir to the song "The Real World" by the Bangles, itself an heir to any slow Beatles love song;

here again for the hypertext-happy is a link:


which, as a song by itself, without the video, after its intimate, confessional opening, might not fully stand up; my song jury's still out. The instrumental break leading to the cliche-ridden bridge becomes ponderous and predictable; singer Hayley loses, just a bit, what had started with a charm cousin to that of Jolie Holland (to whom I was introduced by the local Woodstock radio's constant trumpeting of her "Little Birds" song, her crackly voice making me curious, her articulation as if she were rolling marbles around in the back of her Texan mouth, only to see her charisma refracted in the unparalleled writing of Rick Moody, in The Rumpus, on her work, in which he declares "Mexican Blue" to be the best song of the millennium)


but I was moved, a naif about Paramore, by the performance of naivete itself: Hayley's voice has the honesty of youth, and her persona in the video is that of the outcast, the boyish punk girl who found herself recast once she encounters herself as an adult. The kind of girl for whom GHOST WORLD was written.


So the question is: what is it about certain voices that makes them simultaneously so knowing and fresh, and how do such voices seem to promise catharsis to their listeners?

The crackle followed by the clarity in the timbre of this kind of voice is an equivalent to what the French call jolie-laide, the beautiful-ugly effect, the beauty heightened by the chiaroscuro between rough rawness and the labored. My hunch is that this siren call acts as an equivalent to the authenticity we aim to hear in American fiction, the crackle of the ungrammatical against the smoothness of the epic.

In this highly crackly blog entry, on the eve of the holiday that celebrates the idea of the native and his misunderstood gift approaching a Pilgrim with grand designs, I wish I could go now into an aria, smooth and slippery, a whole nother bridge on Pilgrims: I wish I had time to describe the unfeigned anger of the actress playing a Puritan aboard the Mayflower, someone we met in a tiny ship's hold last summer when our oldest daughter begged for us to go to the historical recreation spot Plymouth Plantation, the kind of site I had thought occurred mainly in George Saunders' fiction -- but that really would be a story a whole crackle away, too big an exception even for this blog.

Happy Thanksgiving; and may your inner pilgrim and native unite.

PS Also, for what this is worth, the voice of Paramore's lead singer reminds me a bit of Brielle Korn, a New York-based pianist/songwriter who plays every Sunday at Jack in the Village in Manhattan, and sometimes at CBGBs. Another paean to vulnerability:



  1. I've been a fan of Paramore for a long time. Someone like Hayley is rare. The last time I think we encountered a female band leader like her was Gwen Steffani in the old days. There was something wrong with her voice. So wrong it was right, right? :-) There's a fine line between talent and one of a kind uniqueness.

  2. Yes. And only now do I realize what a pop-phenomenon Williams is; I did have the feeling, as I was enumerating the unforgettable charm of her voice, as well as her seemingly authentic representation of realness, a deliciousness we all hunger for in our post-ironic era, that I was describing something like a chair to others who stood in the same room and could see just as well.