Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Enigma of Joe South

I just read Joan Didion and Daryl Pinckney’s meditations about the meaning of the Obama victory in the New York Review of Books.

Joan Didion’s comments about the worrying implications of the “irony-free zone” surrounding Obama are worth stewing over for a bit. Didion has chronicled a lot of complex cultural and political change in America, never flinching from the troubling truth.

Speaking of troubling truths and zones of irony, I’m still not sure what zone Joe South is operating in for me. Probably trans-ironic, definitely post-, possibly bi-ironic. Not just plain old, that’s for sure. I’m definitely projecting some unreasonable hopes and expectations onto Joe South. I keep wanting him to be more than he is, and I keep being incapable of gauging whatever it is that he has been. From his record covers he looks out like a cross between Jeff Bridges and Brian Wilson, blessed-out, possibly cantankerous, maybe wasted.

Joe South’s records are almost worth buying for the merits of their liner notes alone. Lefty already expounded on this earlier. Here are a few lines from the back of “So the Seeds Are Growing”:

"Joe South is the sort of person who personifies his times and makes them beautiful.
Joe South is the sort of person who has seen the pain, the rage, the possibilities.
Joe South is the sort of person who has captured the passing moments of a world that’s changing every instant."

And, so, on the one hand, you come to this music looking for so much. What you get, on the surface, is somewhere in the Engelbert Humperdink/B.J. Thomas/Mac Davis zone. But, then you keep listening and looking, and you find something. Maybe it’s there. Maybe not. Check out the dobro slide, which is something like an overdriven kazoo, at the start of “Revolution of Love.” And the feverish string and horn arrangement ups the anticipation. There’s also a kinship to Lee Hazelwood and Bobby Gentry, a little Elvis, if the King was an acid casualty. Raspy soul singing. Reverb-heavy hand-claps. Hyper bass lines try to approximate grooviness with sheer pep. Funky cymbal pattern, heavy on the bell of the ride. It’s swampy. Not without cornmeal chunks. As he says, “The past is gone.”

“Revolution of Love” – Joe South

No comments: