Saturday, 19 December 2009
38. Emily, Joanna Newsom (2006)
A darkening night in 2005, the sun setting sleepily over Clyro, a perfect weekend winding to an end at our first Green Man Festival. The tiny site at Baskerville Hall, the warmth turning the green grass to gold, the feeling of peace and contentment winding through the little fields, the stolen kisses up on the tree trunk in the dark, me getting cider-giddy and buying hippy dresses and daft instruments and falling in love with idea of what a festival could be, the thought that everything could take on a magical glow. And all the musicians pitching up with us – Adem and King Creosote playing gigs after hours around canvas and campfire, while Will Oldham was spotted with mustard on his moustache at the hot dog stand, next to Joanna Newsom, not shrieking and wailing and twanging her harp, but turning out to be a real woman after all.
And then her coming on stage in the Sunday night headline slot, playing new music that I had never heard before. Her songs starting gently, setting alight, becoming long, episodic creatures with no verses and choruses, moving in wild and weird directions. All of them sounding so incredibly beautiful as they whipped and weaved, and the lyrics so strong...listening to them unfold and unravel, knowing I would never forget this hour standing rapt in the light rain, his arm secretly around my middle, listening to her.
We had seen Newsom before, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in Spring. A date that started at lunchtime on a Saturday at a fancy restaurant, a long walk along the river, my wrap dress whipping up in the wind showing my tights to all-comers, our laughs deep from our full bellies, the walk across Waterloo Bridge with the gold of Westminster to our right, the silver of Canary Wharf to our left, and then the concert, weak with wine, our held hands, her invitations. And now, on the Welsh Borders on this cooling night in August, watching her moving on, as we followed her lead.
Emily floated into the night like a peculiar, modernist poem, studded with internal rhymes that I couldn't shake from my mind ("The rusty light by the pines tonight"; "the yoke and the axe and the old smoke-stacks"). Then the images that hung in my heart for hours, the meanings running through them well worked-out and whittled (the mud-cloud made by the skipped stones "like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror"; the "furrows, curling back, like a match held to a newspaper"; the peonies that "wetly bow"); the search for a midwife "who could help me find my way back in"; the crackle of death that gave darkness to the song's sweetest moments, the idea of ships sailing away, poppies growing "knee-deep", the lines "fading in my kingdom".
This was Newsom's own Waste Land, full of pharoahs and pharisees, stars and dirt-red bullets, revealing itself to the skies and the stars and to us. And me standing in that field thinking that this is what it must've been like to hear Dylan in the '60s, to hear someone creating their own particular poetry, rhythm and metre, making music that sounded like nothing else, that reinvented the wheel. A complete world calling us in, asking us to fall in love with it, as we did again with each other.