three old records part 2
Van Dyke Parks.
A few months ago those three words would have conjured naught but a sneer of disdain from my, admittedly rather kissable, lips. I owned a copy of “Song Cycle” and had listened to it about five times since I bought it in a moment of malnourished half-drunken recklessness in Barcelona several years ago. So, I’ve gone without food, and most importantly booze in order to own this, have I? Admittedly there’s not much cultural product that can mitigate against a lack of food and booze, but still, verily I was eating dust and ashes when I stuck it on and got some hideous candy-striped confection of whimsical fuckwittery in place of the Avant-garde meisterwerk THEY HAD PROMISED ME.
I dug it out again month or so ago, imagining that perhaps like a fine wine it had matured with the years, nestling there in the bottom of the roughly hewn (but organic!) oakum ( Hand Picked by the NEW POOR!) and recycled-diaper CD sack in which I routinely cart around the miserable burden that the pre-digitized age foisted upon us. Nowadays of course this medium sized slagheap of unwanted cds (but which tantalisingly and therefore unbinnably promises the overlooked, the undisclosed, the finally understood) could be replaced by one small memory stick. But wouldn’t you miss the materiality of the thing itself, the way it seems to anchor you in a world unmappably in flux blah blah. Not when you have to shlepp (like a nebbish!) through the rain with your shoulder gently de-socketing in yet another housemove (can’t drive, you see). Veritably the cds of the past way like a nightmare on the forearms of the living.
Still, I digress.
“Song Cycle!” It’s still fucking horrible. I love “Vine Street” but twenty seconds into Parks' egregious acid-and-helium-infused Disney-fied reworking of it I’m gagging and reaching for the superlative “Nilsson sings Newman.”
And as for all the Beach Boys stuff, who cares? The Beach Boys leave me colder than a homeless Siberian’s gangrenous legs. “Surfs up”? A cringe-making rococo folly of epic proportions. Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson’s “Orange Crate Art”? An overegged meringue of sickly sweet eupeptic whooping and warbling, made all the more awful by the prospect, in the mind’s eye, of the grizzled, turkey-wattled gizzards from whence it pipes, an abomination to the ears of all those who Dwell in the House of Righteousness. Everything from and including “Clang of the Yankee Reaper”? A welter of smugly virtuosic, wildly overproduced, smart-arsed, waxed-tash-twirling, bow-tie-whirling showtunery.
Listen to Van Dyke Parks? I’d rather watch my Mother eat out a syphilitic Latvian pole dancer for crack-money. LOL!!!!
And he arranged that Joanna Newsom LP, innit? That’s a world of wilfully idiosyncratic Kookiness that Van has dished up. Surely, his crimes are Legion, there can be no forgiveness. To the scaffold, comrades!
Except we’re missing one thing, aren’t we? Van’s Calypso album “Discover America.”
Listen to a Van Dyke Park’s Calypso Concept Album? I’d rather bugger my own mother sans Vaseline (LOL) as she ate out (etc)(LOL). (hereafter BMOMSVASAOSLPDFCM)
Or rather at this stage I’d rather BMOMSVASAOSLPDFCM than NOT hear it again. Yep, so deeply have I fallen under twinkly-eyed and fleet-footed foxy Old Uncle Dyke’s Trinidadian mojo.
Partly it’s wit, though Park’s is always clever, here he’s actually funny. The first track “Jack Palance”, a scratchy take-off of a lost calypso classic in which the singer (presumably Parks singing with a Trinidadian accent) stumble s upon an elderly female family member having it large in a dancehall with a Yankee sailor and is suitably horrified and incredulous, especially as she is “ still going about at night with a face like Jack Palance”
But is it merely funny? Does comedy, after all, belong in music? Not merely, no, it’s also as infectiously groovy as the nonunheretoforeaformentioned syphiltic Latvian pole dancer. Unlike both his later and earlier stuff, its uncluttered, almost lo-fi in the production, there’s space to breathe whereas the others are simply so obsessed with the razzle-dazzle of full pelt, full tilt orchestration and arrangement that it’s hard to get a purchase on it. There’s a certain amount of space needed for the ear to slip between the interstices and work on the sound a little, if not it just bounces of the surface.
“Discover America”, more than his other work, precisely because of its looseness and restraint offers up Park’s extravagant gift for melody and harmony to the full. It’s achingly lovely at times, (Sailing Shoes) downright funky at others (Occapella) plays with dissonance and unusual tempos (Big Wheels) but never loses its exuberance, its rosy insistence on life’s pleasures.
Generally Parks is as exhausting as he is inexhaustible, as deadeningly full-on as a Jerry Lee Lewis or Jim Carrey movie, but “Discover America’s” measured panache and its heartfelt revelling in the beauty of Calypso, married to an affecting homage to the West Indies and some of Park’s musical influences produces a work that positively tickles you all over, from cortex to instep, from the tips of your snapping fingers to the balls of your tapping toes.
Van Dyke Parks? Absolute badman.