Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Remembering Kirsty MacColl

I was cleaning the table upon which our computer stands--or was it I was searching for a phone book?--but anyway, imbedded in all this clutter I pulled out the CD "Tropical Brainstorm" by Kirsty MacColl. This 2001 release was then transferred to our car which has only one tray to hold a CD.

That's an important detail. Once I pop a CD into play in this car, it often stays there for a while. And that's when, thankfully, I get the same listening experience I had back when I was a teenager wearing the grooves out of a record.

I would like to nominate "Tropical Brainstorm" as (appropriately) one of my "desert island" CDs. It's that fabulous. My two young boys will second me on this sentiment. (Oh, to hear them sing "Treachery/made a monster out of me" is precious!) So, here I am at my blog, wishing to dash off an entry on Kirsty.

Of course, with me, nothing that I care about is "dashed off." So, although I broke my New Year's promise of not deliberating excessively over my posts, I now give you reasons why you should consider the inimitable Kirsty MacColl.

I begin by trolling for some background on-line. Nothing can give you writer's block faster! Oh, I am DEFINITELY not alone out there. It's just like discovering that Peter Yarrow's solo albums have a fan base. What is there left to say? Well, say it I will, irregardless--let the other voices trail on my coattails via links!

Kirsty MacColl, who died tragically at 41 the year "Tropical Brainstorm" was released, was an absolutely brilliant singing and songwriting talent. (Shane MacGowan of the Pogues once said, "Why isn't she massively successful?") I came to know her on this last CD. I'd certainly heard of her--and I did have an under- or unlistened tape of one of her works--but I buckled in once my sister sent me MacColl's last CD.

"Tropical Brainstorm" tells the story of a woman free and loose in South America. It leaves you with an indelible impression of the hilarious, self-deprecating person Kirsty MacColl must have been.

I submit to you the song "Treachery." Over a Caribbean rhythm, our narrator tell us:

I'm stalking a fan
He lives in a high rise block
And here I am
He shouldn't have turned my rock
He's brushing his teeth
He doesn't look bad from this far
I'm hailing a cab
And I'm gonna follow his car
Wherever he goes
I won't be too far behind
Just hanging around
Driving him out of his mind

Treachery made a monster out of me
Treachery made a monster out of me

As the song progresses, we learn that this fan is being unfaithful to Kirsty (a recurring theme throughout).

I'm stalking a fan
He's gone to the record store
To buy a CD
By some other girl not me
He's taking her home
Getting her out of her box
And putting her on
And dancing around in his socks

What an arresting comedic image! Dancing around in his socks! It's funny, but simultaneously your heart goes out to Kirsty for her desperation. You so admire her utter honesty. It calls to mind the work of Loudon Wainwright III.

In "Here Comes That Man Again", Kirsty describes a sexually heated cyberspace relationship.

Here comes that man again
He knows that I'm online
"Knock knock, who's there?"
It's just a matter of time
Here comes millenium man
Rum and coke in one hand
And in the other...
Is that a mouse a see?
Although when I tell him he's corny
It seems to make him quite horny
And through the cyberspace
I watch the rapture on his face
Yes while his girlfriend is sleeping
His sexuality's peeking
Here comes that man again
After a long hard day
He likes to come home and talk to me
He says it's something he needs
He can't stop spilling the seeds
God bless European unity
And all those who never sleep

OK, this delicious wit makes me nod in agreement when I read U2's Bono called her "the Noel Coward of her generation." (I'm glad that my sons are only taking to the chorus of this song!)

Again and again you follow Kirsty along her South American misadventures. In "England 2 Columbia 0" she runs into a "serial liar":

Oh you shouldn't have kissed me and got me so excited
And when you asked me out I really was delighted
So we went to a pub in Belsize Park
And we cheered on England as the sky grew dark

Oh you shouldn't have kissed me cause you started a fire
But then I found out that you're a serial liar

You lied about your status
You lied about your life
You never mentioned your three children
And the fact you have a wife
Now it's England 2 Colombia 0
And I know just how those Colombians feel

If you hadn't passed out while I was talking to your friend
It could have really ended badly cause you very nearly had me
If he hadn't taken pity on my heart full of desire
I might never have found out you're a serial liar

Thanks to this number, which is my 8 year-old Grady's favorite ("Track 7, Dad") my boys have now wrestled with and mastered the meaning of the word "status". Ah, good songwriting, good vocabulary--it all follows.

"Tropical Brainstorm" is an organic whole divided into what seems to my ears two distinct parts. The first half dozen or so tracks feature driving Cuban rhythms and horns. But the second half has more of a samba feel to it. Kirsty, now more reflective, reveals that she still awaits her Prince Charming in "Golden Heart."

Music's playing
I'm still praying
Venus made me
Eros betrayed me
Instead of love's arrow
He used a poison dart
So if you could love me
Take good care of me
You'd take this spell off my golden heart

Her singing is so lovely. MacColl is such a confident vocalist, so strong and supple. In her career she sang backup for the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, and the Pogues, to name a few.

Critically lauded, her life ended at the age of 41 on December 18, 2000 when she was struck by a boat while scuba diving with her sons in Mexico. I recommend traveling to her website as well as reading an especially a touching fan tribute here.

By the way, Kirsty's father was Ewan MacColl, a fine songwriter in his own right. Remember the song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"? It's mentioned in a superb 2-part fifteen-minute interview with Kirsty. Check it out: Part 1; Part 2.


Julie Zickefoose said...

Oddly and sadly, the only song off "Brainstorm" that got much airplay to my knowledge was "In These Shoes." Which was a nice song, but I'd love to hear some of these bitter, edgy things. You've intrigued me.

Jackie Stoodt said...

I Love Kirsty MacColl!!
Her talent will be missed. I find myself
reaching out for her music when I want to
be lifted up emotionally. Kirsty makes it okay
to enjoy happy, funny lyrics and Dance, Dance, Dance..

Anonymous said...

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