The time has finally come for me to start expressing what I have been overwhelmingly feeling for the past week, since I started to properly listen to this sunshine of a woman named Joanna Newsom. I want to - actually, I need to vent a little about the album Ys, since it’s the one I first listened to, plus, my initial contact with Joanna’s work and thoughts that came with it.
Even though I only found out about her a few months ago, I guess everyone knows her(?); and, if you don’t, you should. There’s not one single moment in which I’m not mad at myself for not finding her sooner. So, FYI:
She’s a harpist, pianist, singer and songwriter from Nevada. According to some sources, she may be the most famous harpist alive today. I really don’t know about you, but it really sounds quite badass for me. I started searching for her stuff after watching her husband’s multiple interviews, where he would be sometimes asked about their marriage. I’ve been binge watching random interviews with people I admire for the last weeks, and I found myself actually watching some interviews of hers before I even got to listen to her music.
First of all, what a lovely woman! Each answer, each laughter, each little thing she did on camera caused an admiration for the idea of Andy and her together to grow strongly; I wasn’t even sure if it was OK for me to feel so strongly about someone else’s relationship. My curiosity grew when I started to read the comments on these YouTube videos, pretty much 100% of them being about her intelligence, her talent and how her music sounds angelical, mystical and perfectly constructed.
Let it be said that it only grew more and more as I watched every single interviewer asking both Andy and Joanna about how different their works are, and how different they appear to be as individuals; not only was suggested that Andy would probably not rise up to such an intelligent, serious taste as to fall in love with her (he doesn’t even need to say a word for anyone to realize how passionately in love he is with Joanna and her entire work), but also said that no one could believe she was actually able to be a goofy, easy-going, good-humored person because of the lyrics she writes. I could spend hours listing the unnecessary questions I identified in these interviews, and how I get easily annoyed by these famous hosts assuming stuff or trying to create an uncomfortable environment. And don’t even get me started on the fact that most of the interviews she was invited to would revolve around her relationship with her husband. I’m choosing to let this feeling pass for now, since it’s not my focus today.
I couldn’t help but start by saying all this since I truly adore Andy’s works, and nothing feels warmer than realizing two amazing people are in love and have a family together by choice. I mean… C’mon. Just look at them.
Another interesting thing I found out was that she dislikes streaming platforms similar to Spotify — which probably (?) justifies the fact that I never came across her songs, since I use these platforms on a daily basis and have been using it to find new artists for the last years. Call me ignorant, it’s fine, truly; but I haven’t heard of similar opinions coming from other artists, and it made me even more curious to know what this woman was expressing, creating, thinking. She actually told Larry King:
“Spotify is a business model. It’s not good. It’s based on the idea of circumventing the payment of artists. (…) I’m not opposed to streaming. I understand that the world is shifting and that the way music is valued and monetized is shifting, and I’m OK with that. And I’m even OK with people not paying for music (…); I just wish that there was a better way to do it that didn’t only pay a company. (…) I haven’t heard of one [alternative to Spotify] that seems built the way that I would prefer it to be built.”
Apparently, one of Spotify’s owners (owners or directors… IDEK and IDEC) even replied to her criticism, but she never appeared to change her mind or retreated from defending even her honest, harsh comments about how Spotify is “like a villainous cabal of major labels”. For me, that’s a badass woman. Not only for expressing herself without giving a damn about anyone who might be offended in this process, but also for choosing the path that felt ethical and worthy, and being recognized all over the world for her talent while following her own ways. I know, right? Simply awesome.
There i was, reading the endless comments on her interviews’ videos and wondering what the fuss was all about. There was nothing left for me to do other than to actually start listening to her songs. I could have done it by looking up her discography and starting from her first project, but somehow I stomped into the Ys album (which was released in 2006) in YouTube itself.
First of all, would you look at this freaking cover? I found it absolutely gorgeous in each detail. In fact, I really wish to know if there are meanings in the little specific parts of the painting. Maybe there aren’t any and I’m just trying to create a more complex Joanna in my mind? Sounds like me. Or maybe there are lots of ’em and she already said it on camera and I simply missed this video? Sure, quite possibly. I spent so much time thinking about this cover…
Maybe way too much time. Alright, on we go.
There are 5 tracks on the album: ‘Emily’, ‘Monkey & Bear’, ‘Sawdust and Diamonds’, ‘Only Skin’ and ‘Cosmia’.
At first, I didn’t quite understand what I was listening to. And I’m not talking about the lyrics; I’m talking about the whole idea of the album, the artist, the genre. The conjunction formed by her high pitches and soft, delicious vocal variations, surrounded lovingly by the harp and the violins was very mysterious to me. Normally, I wouldn’t be encouraged to keep listening to her. But something kept me there, seated, staring at the screen and paying attention to each second of it. It was an experience. A real transportation. I searched for the lyrics on Genius, and anyone that would pass by my bedroom’s open door would see me completely enamored by what I was listening to, like a concentrated kid being told an epic, adventurous, huge, beautiful and complex story. That is exactly how I felt: in the middle of a field, picturing each image she described in the songs; each figure, each feeling. She described it all in a way that made me wonder how can someone describe a dream so vividly, how can someone describe anything so perfectly, so fully, and not sound redundant, not sound at all boring. The way the melody and the lyrics fit together, as a gift perfectly wrapped and tightly involved in the most beautiful way… I repeat: it was an experience. It is an experience. This is not something you can listen to at any given time, at any given place; I would not dare to not pay attention each time I would plan to listen to it. This is how seriously submerged I felt by Joanna in that moment; in that entire day.
All of this, all of this immersion, all of this dream-like state in which I found myself in, kept growing its roots in me throughout the entire album, in a way I needed to show someone — anyone — Joanna before I even got to finish the five songs; and the first one that came near me happened to be my mother. While listening, she actually found it quite pleasing, “like some old movie’s soundtrack” (when listening to Emily), “like an 1960′s melody” (when listening to Sawdust and Sand) and on she went about the entire album. And this got me thinking about how I would describe her genre; of course, after following her on BandCamp I found out I was actually listening to some “folk/pop/avant-garde/baroque pop/chamber folk/indie” stuff. Sounds about right, but at the same time not right at all, for some reason. I believe it’s fair to say that Joanna has a magical, rare quality to her music that makes it different to each one listening to it. I’ve said it too much and I’ll say it again: it’s an experience, a complete, true one. It ressonates with deep, personal places. And, strangely, it makes many people describe the feeling that urges to grow inside their hearts as “home”. I share this exact same sensation.
I really don’t know if it makes any sense, but see: I cherish my alone time probably more than anything in the world. I have learned to be my own best friend in many ways, and being by myself in some quiet days, at my house, reading, listening, watching and creating is when I can truly be myself. With that said, listening to this album, I felt at home. It made me feel even more alone, and I mean it in the most loving, warm, hypnotizing way.
The Ys album is a relatively quick production to be heard, even though it feels like you’ve been gone for hours, days, weeks on end while listening to it. The amount of literary, historic and philosophical references in the lyrics is magically overwhelming; I simply wasn’t able to snap out of it for a long time, and I have, to this day, re-listened to the album about 5 times. Still reading the lyrics again and again, still grasping at some expressions faintly but amazed, still finding out about hidden and not so hidden meanings behind each track. Still defining it, every single day.
I hope for the great discoveries I feel like pursuing from her work, and the diverse new singers, song-writers, harpists, pianists, violinists, chellists and musicists in general I’ll try to find, understand and support from now on. I’m thankful for finding out how much I love the mix between an orchestra-like atmosphere and a sweet, honest voice ringing in my ears; and how the words assembled together feels like a psychography.
I thank the universe every single day for the opportunity to discover people like Joanna Newsom.
*I wrote this outflow in the middle of 2020, when social isolation and an intense binge-watching of Andy Samberg’s works gave me no other choice. This is originally from my Tumblr account; but, since it is genuinely one of the most honest things I have ever written, I decided to share it as my first story on Medium.