Measured Extravagance

2000-10-24 - 8:56 p.m.

I first heard Dar Williams singing "The Ballad of Mary Magdalen" on a promo CD, and recognized her voice again when they played "Iowa" in the background at Ken's Sushi some months back. I finally bought my own copy of Mortal City last week, and have been playing "Iowa" both aloud and in my head the past two evenings. I don't think it's by accident that the "What is love?" uttered during "Iowa" are a melodic echo of the same phrase in a popular version of Shakespeare's "O Mistress Mine," though the verses are four centuries apart and come from opposite sides of more than an ocean:

What is love? 'tis not hereafter.
Present mirth hath present laughter -
What's to come still is unsure.
Then come and kiss me sweet and twenty,
in delay there lies no plenty:
Youth's a stuff 'twill not endure.

How I long to fall just a little bit, to dance out of the lines and stray from the light,
But I fear that to fall in love with you is to fall from a great and gruesome height.
So I asked a friend about it, on a bad day, her husband had just left her,
She sat down on the chair he left behind, she said,
"What is love, where did it get me? Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine."

I love love love to sink into this song...but I also enjoy DW in fast and funny mode: before I started playing Mortal City, the song being repeated on my car stereo was "Alleluia" (about a teen angel with serious attitude). Listening to her, I've had a number of "my friends who love Christine Lavin have to hear this" moments, specifically during "The Babysitter," "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-ed," and "The Christians and the Pagans".

On a related note, I saw Catie Curtis (who opens for DW on many of her tour dates) open for Mary Chapin Carpenter a couple of years ago. She isn't as strong a writer or performer as either MCC or DW, but I did enjoy her first album Truth from Lies, particularly "You Can Always Be Gone" and "Slave to My Belly."

One of the things all these women have in common is that they have real, full-bodied grown-up voices that I can sing along with, and real lyrics worth singing. I'll take MCC belting out Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses" over any tweety little-girl-voiced Top 40 songster any day:

Is it too much to demand
I want a full house and a rock and roll band
Pens that won't run out of ink
And cool quiet and time to think

Shouldn't I have this--
Shouldn't I have all of this, and
Passionate kisses from you.

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