Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cuts for Cooky: Jackie DeShannon

Jackie DeShannon in '68, in what the caption on NPR's site called the "notorious Laurel Canyon," situated a bit north of LA in the Hollywood Hills.

Jackie DeShannon was interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air" hosted by Terry Gross, and I have to admit, I was pretty taken. Her legend precedes her, of course, and I can remember being a terribly young boy and thinking she was cute, in the way that the teen girls were then to a little boy; kinda grown up, but way more fun and unattainable simply cuz I was a kid.

There are some quibbles with technicalities on the comments of the "Fresh Air" page, but I kinda think certain of the audience were listening to or for other things than I was. DeShannon's story, making it as a writer as a teenage girl (!) and using it as an entry into performing, is incredible enough. But she's very candid about her place as a woman in that men's world of that time; that's the bigger message, I think, and one that I felt important for Renee to know about. DeShannon said something very poignant about this subject in a very succinct manner; listen for it.

It's always cool to turn Renee onto the icons of my generation. I happened to be driving and the interview came on and I pulled over to text her back in LA to listen up. I just had a feeling that she'd dig DeShannon. Sure enough, Daddy knows his girl.

There's an element, maybe it's depth - whatever that means but hopefully conveys - to DeShannon that reminds me of Karen Carpenter and Patsy Cline. I don't know exactly what it is, but there's weight, a dimension to their singing that I like. And too, I like the dichotomy; pop songs with that je ne sais qua. It reminds me of what Brando said one time about Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow;" how it's utterly insipid - can it be any more puffy than little blue birds flying over a rainbow? - and yet, it brings tears to your eyes when you watch "Dorothy." I suppose some would also say it's analogous to soul and black singers, but I don't think so, because listening to Marvin Gaye, who for my money is soul embodied, produces a very different feeling for me. The life experiences, manifested in the different genres and feeling, no doubt have something to do with it.

Collaborating early on with Jimmy Page - whom she would date, break up with and allegedly be the inspiration for "Tangerine" on Zeppelin III - and Randy Newman, the first a certified legend and the latter a stellar writing and performing pro, it seems Jackie DeShannon is never mentioned when it comes to great musicians of that era. This week she's being inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, and I think her having roots in writing has something to do with having that depth.

Earlier today, I happened to come across a maker of preserves, June Taylor, here in Berkeley. She crafts everything by hand from organic ingredients culled from local growers as well as her own. During our conversation, she mentioned that she was in Santa Monica recently on a research mission, to a special collection of 16th century books on preserve making. This is something that's utterly lost on today's mechanized, bigger, stronger, faster, society - craftsmanship and knowing one's place in history, the mother of all subjects. (I recommend her: www.junetaylorjams.com)

I mention June Taylor because I think craftswomanship has something to do with Jackie DeShannon, because she has an obvious love and affection for historical influences. Plus, the act of crafting a song is a much different process than, say, performing it. I don't mean to diminish performers, because I have all the respect in the world for comedians, actors, singers, musicians, but I happen to be prejudiced; I think an artist of the caliber of a Ralph Ellison - even if he basically only produces one work - is, in general a far more profound artist. To make a crude analogy, writing implies thoughtfulness and a material process in time, while performing is not thinking but doing in the moment.

This is my favorite Jackie DeShannon song, one of her earliest, performed here on the happening show of the time, "Hullabaloo." One of the elements I appreciate on this song is its production which has a Phil Spector feel. I also love good riffs - Page has said that Zep was, if nothing else, a riff heavy band - and this is one, a simple arpeggio with panache. Watch for her miscue in the beginning as this is lip synched; it's pretty cute as she catches herself. In the NPR interview, it's interesting to hear her talk of the way she had to present herself, and to then watch her shimmy shamming here in light of that.

I do know this now after hearing her interview; it's easy to see why she's adored by musicians and fans alike.