Saturday, July 19


[A] few years ago I was invited to a record club in Lower Manhattan by a painter friend. The record club worked this way: each of the twelve attendants brought two songs that they were in love with at the moment, and, according to a sequence generated by randomly dealt playing cards, we circled the room in two rounds with everyone playing his or her songs in turn. Though I've never really been a book club sort of guy, I was taken with the spirit of this gathering right away.

On the Friday night in question, the record club was marching along, doing what it does, glancing off of jazz, electronica, Britpop, early rock and roll, Old Time, when suddenly there emerged from the speakers the most strangled, desperate racket I had heard in ages.

The first problem was the singer's voice. The singer sang in a tortured falsetto, or most of the time he did. Sometimes he hovered just above and below the line that separated his chest voice from his falsetto. In the tenor range, he had a boyish drawl, sort of like Kurt Cobain, if Kurt had been raised in the Ozarks. But then there was his boy soprano, into which he lurched for various pitches, where he was silly and ghostly and a little bit shrill all at the same time.

Having noted the singer, I shifted my focus to the accompanying ensemble: acoustic guitar, organ, celeste, two rather primitive drummers. The band would probably have sounded adorable, like the soundtrack to the tugboat in Mister Rogers' neighborhood, were it not for the structure of the song itself, which I later learned was entitled "Holy Kisser's Block Party." It began with an alarm clock, followed by section A, some kind of whispery chant in which Daniel, the lead vocalist, and some girl backup singers intoned their rhetorical intention, "I do vow, / here and now, / I will kiss again / It starts right now." This was followed by section B, in which the celeste, or chimes, dominated, and a very different melody was explored, followed by a section C, in which varieties of love were described and suggested by the narrator, "Begin your loving to the one who bothers most," this in turn followed by a section D, an actual chorus, in which piano propelled the rhythms, major triads, while above hovered some really strange counterpoint between Daniel and the backup singers, his sisters. Did I not say that the band in question, the Danielson Famile, really are a family? Daniel on acoustic guitar and vocals; Rachel on vocals and flute and sometimes organ; Megan on bells and vocals; David and Andrew on drums and percussion, respectively. "Get your rear in gear, lend an ear, have no fear, draw near, my dear, bring the cheer, take time to hear." And then a section E, which was really section B in a minor key, consisting only of a repetition of the line, "As coals of fire rest on their heads," with minimal accompaniment. Back to section A.

I thought it was some of the worst caterwauling I had ever heard. And I like caterwauling.

The record club always produces a little anthology—the minutes of the proceedings, if you will—and so I had the opportunity to hear "Holy Kisser's Block Party" again, in my car, because that's often where I first listen to compact discs, and I confess I was a little shocked by the song. I resisted its complex demands. And yet when I stumbled on it, periodically, when playing the anthology of the record club event, I realized that I was beginning to think the song was indisputably great.

-- Rick Moody "How to Be a Christian Artist" The Believer 25


The Believer

Rick Moody