From my California journal:
I decided to come here for a week on vacation to see the MB & a friend of ours, Rufus. They live wild bohemian lives and everyone they know is a waitress and/or musician who does coke. Rufus's loft bed, where we all intermittently slept, is covered with brown fur.
On my first night here the MB & R & I--& some of their other San Francisco friends--went to this bar in Berkeley called the Starry Plow (like the Plough and the Stars? or just the constellation?) to see Joanna Newsom, an insane womanchild harpist the MB loves. I had tottered off the airplane & been driven in a car Rufus was borrowing from some friend to a beach in some distant town--near Pacifica--where our view of the Pacific was framed by vast, red-sanded California cliffs covered with green shrubs, and where we ventured into a furious ocean with huge, 10-foot waves (okay, maybe 8-foot) that rose up in sheer green-glass walls and plunged down to charge forward like Poseidon's white horses--now I understand that image, of horses coming from the sea, because the churning foam dipped up and down at the crests of the waves like a thousand horse-heads, with the droplets rising & falling like wind-tossed manes. We went into these waves & were nearly destroyed--R & I tried to dive into our first one and were swept up inside it, turned around and rolled in circles of sand and current like tiny stones or hapless babies (like me, at three, & some milder Gulf waves) & returned to ourselves, coughing and somewhat terrified, in the shallows of receding foam, beached on our stomachs and standing to shake the grit out of our suits.
At other times we were merely slapped with walls of water on our thighs and hips, pushed forcibly backwards on our feet, or deliciously carried forward or under when we succeeded in riding a wave or diving inside it.
After that, we found palm-tree-shaped algae on the shore and planted them vertically in the sand, so their amber jellied fronds could cherish & protect tiny, invisible tourists who lounged in blue mussel-shell recliners in the shade. Waves came & overturned the tourists, but left the trees tall & proud & glistening.
Then we drove home & showered & dressed and ate burritos with the MB & Rufus's friends at one of the thousands of taquerias that you can find in the Mission. And then we all drove across the bay to Berkeley and the Starry Plough (and we listened to excellent soft-rock hits all the way there), & it is here, I suppose, that my narrative stops being a parenthetical one & resumes properly, although why I have chosen this narrative structure I do not know. At the bar--which was medium-sized and coffeehousey, with a bar at one end & then an empty space before the stage at the other, with lots of signs about peace & revolution & things written in Gaelic everywhere--the MB & I waited a long time to be served Coronas & began to rediscover each other. Then we sat down & watched a skinny, gamy-looking man pluck his guitar and sing songs written while he was on mushrooms & moonshine in the South, accompanied by a singing saw & some other instruments. (The songs I wrote on moonshine, I must admit, were much less rootsy than his & primarily about sailors.)
After his last, twangy, very catchy song about a fortune-telling chicken ("Alabama chicken, show me the way . . . look 'im in the eye/bird don't lie/voodoo, vooday"), which I contend was supposed to be kind of funny & the MB contends was supposed to be "intense," Joanna Newsom came on. She's blonde and nubile, with smooth long hair cut in bangs straight across her forehead & lovely supple arms that embraced her harp with striking tenderness. She was wearing a red T-shirt underneath kind of sexy, heart-shaped denim overalls, and she had a piece of long fringed leather tied around one arm & of course the gigantic golden harp.
When she opened her mouth you realized there was something insane about her. She has a tiny, strident, almost inhuman voice that might be the voice of a very little girl or the voice of a demented Shakespearean crone, and she has a little-girl speech impediment that crackles up her words & softens or contorts some of her consonants, and she uses very very stylized phrasing, clipping things abruptly or drawing words into long keening wails. Also her lyrics are equally insane & often irritatingly precious or poetical or cute--fairies, flying kites, gathering shells, even Cair Paravel comes into it at one point--and the combination of the lyrics & the baby-voice and the fact that she's a harpist makes her almost laughable. And yet she sat at her harp with such amazing womanlike grace, concentrating her face on the strings, and moving her fingers with beautiful athletic mastery among the strings, that I sat fascinated. And from among the unicorny lyrics there would suddenly come lines that rang so true and so beautiful & down-to-earth and real that they produced an almost physical shock--like when she'd sing something that was a reference to sex or adult love or adult pain. And after enough of those moments had passed, and after I had fallen under the spell of her working fingers & the complicated melody of her harp, her voice became hypnotic & captivating & strange & wonderful--still elfin, still technically objectionable (by my criteria, which is to avoid being in a fantasy novel), but pure and gorgeous. And in the same way the cute lyrics lost some of their cuteness and revealed themselves as the voice of a smart, passionate, well-read girl, who likes unicorns because her kind is meant to like them, but who likes them in a smart, passionate, gorgeous way.
Afterward, I bought her CD and we all stood outside & smoked cigarettes. And then we went back to the cottage where R was house-sitting, which belonged to a former MTV VJ's nanny, and it was too beautiful to be believed & struck me to the heart with jealousy--a lovely, decent-sized living room made out of dark raftery wood, with tall narrow windows you can open up with charming hooks & hinges, showing the wild green California landscape and the profusions of plants that grow outside, and the tall black profiles of narrow trees against the sunset. And it had a tiny white-painted triangular kitchen, & a cozy bathroom with a window the cats could jump through and a little hinged door in the door itself that was far too tiny for a cat, and a bedroom with one tall beautiful bedstead taking up most of it, piled with feather mattresses and raspberry-sherbet-colored pillows (the soft, milky kind of raspberry sherbet, not the supermarket kind) and more tall bright windows that opened in old-fashioned ways. And there was a little stone patio with a table and chairs & a rocky terraced slope rising up behind it, teeming with tiny, barbed & speckled succulents and sweet flowers, & at the top of the little slope was a hammock and an apple tree with very, very small winey apples growing on it.
On Saturday night the MB & I got the delicious bed & we snuggled up under the cozy blankets and tasted the sweet summer air and slept very nicely indeed.Posted by anonymousblonde at octobre 07, 2003 06:52 PM