The band for this gig is just Alan Sparhawk on guitar and vocals and his wife Mimi Parker on backing vocals (and thigh slaps). It’s a very stripped down sound, but it really suits these songs (I don’t know the originals of the other two–“Nightingale” and “Something’s Turning Over”) which all come from their new album C’mon.
Their harmonies are wonderful (they are quite striking on “Something’s Turning Over” where I thought she was playing a keyboard, but it is her voice!) and the melodies are pretty terrific too. As I said last time, I’ve never really listened to Low very much (I’ve been sort of turned off at the idea of their being spare and depressing). Strangely, this session which is just the two of them is the opposite of spare. I don’t know if this is a good introduction to the band, but it’s a wonderful introduction to this album. And it’s a surprisingly catchy collection of songs from a bunch of ol’ mopesters.
Although, perhaps the biggest surprise comes at the end of the show when, before leaving, Sparhawk starts playing “Sweet Home Alabama” and Parker even gets the “turn it up” part right.
I wasn’t expecting to listen to this more than once or twice, but I’m really entranced by this session.
[READ: May 10, 2011] Emily of New Moon
Sarah loves the Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon book series. She still has the books from when she was a kid (the copy I read has her signature and phone number (several area code changes ago) written on the inside front cover). After reading the L.M. Montgomery biography, I figured it was time to look into these books. I was going to start with Anne, but we watched the movie not too long ago so I decided that I’d start fresh with an unknown subject.
Emily is a 12-year-old girl whose mother has died and whose father is deathly ill. Indeed, within a chapter or two, Emily finds herself an orphan. I don’t know a thing about 100 year old adoption laws in Canada, but the upshot is that someone from Emily’ mother’s family, the Murrays, will take care of her until she is old enough to do so on her own. However Emily’s mother ran off with a boy when she was very young (which was a disgrace to the family name), and Emily herself is a willful and strong child. Frankly, no one wants her. So, with Emily eavesdropping, the Murray clan discusses her future and decides to make her draw straws for her fate.
Emily winds up going to (yes) New Moon, with her Aunt Elizabeth and her Aunt Laura. This is the home where her mother grew up–and from where she ran away at a terribly young age with the man who was to become Emily’s father. Mr Starr was a good man, but he wasn’t of the proper class, so Emily’s family were more or less shunned by the aristocratic Murrays (even the Murray’s God was more proper than the Starr’s God–which Mr Starr found very amusing).
As is to be expected, Elizabeth is not too thrilled to have a willful child under her roof and she treats her accordingly: providing for her all of her needs, but not indulging and of her desires (the blow up over Emily’s haircut is quite astonishing). Elizabeth is stern and set in her ways (the house uses candles instead of lamps, she won’t let Emily read novels), and she seems insistent on squashing all of Emily’s impulses.
Aunt Laura, on the other hand, is kind and friendly. And yet she still resides under the power of Aunt Elizabeth, the unquestioned monarch of the residence. Laura encourages (quietly) Emily’s ideas and is as sympathetic as she can be to Emily’s plight.
After a time, Emily settles in at New Moon. She thinks of it as home. And she starts going to school. School turns out to be not unlike in Little House on thePrairie. There’s just one teacher. She teaches all the kids and she is M-E-A-N, mean. She’s not only mean to Emily, she’s mean to most everyone (although she is especially mean to Emily–who is a Murray but not a real Murray). This whole idea of a teacher who is basically mean and vindictive and apparently answerable to no one is so odd to me, but that must be 1920s Canada. [See comment below that it is NOT 1920s Canada, but 1890s Canada].
Even the girls hate Emily for her Murray connections. But it’s not all doom and gloom in New Moon. Emily makes some good friends. Ilse is a tomboy who lives nearby. Her father is (scandal!) an atheist whose wife is not to be mentioned in his house. And he hates just about everybody (paradoxically, he is also a doctor with a great bedside manner–unless you are healthy, in which case he has no use for you). Ilse and Emily become best friends and do all manner of fun things together (they also fight like crazy–and the names they call each other are absolutely wonderful (very creative and extremely G-rated and the kind of insults that would be so much fun to hurl at someone–“I’m glad to be rid of you–you proud, stuck-up, conceited, top-lofty biped,” “Do you suppose I care what you think, you insignificant serpent? Why, you haven’t any sense.”).
There are also boys in the book. There’s Cousin Jimmy, who was knocked into a well as a young man and is now a “poet.” Emily finds great solace in him. There’s also Teddy, an artist who lives nearby. When he falls ill, Emily and Ilsa visit him and help him recuperate. But Teddy’s mother is jealous of everyone. She shoots dirty looks at Ilsa and Emily but she’s even suspicious of the new kitten that Teddy loves so much. Teddy’s mother believes that he is giving away love that is rightly for her. (There are a lot of dead kittens in the book).
And there’s Perry, a hired hand at New Moon. He is a bit more thuggish than the rarefied Teddy, but he also achieves whatever he sets his mind to. And he has decided that he will study hard and become a politician.
And finally there is Jarback Priest. When Emily goes away for a summer to Wyther Grange, her great aunt Nancy Priest–who thought she was a stupid girl–gives her a lot of freedom and love, something she hasn’t experienced since going to New Moon. The Priests are another line of her family (the Murrays disapprove of the Priests) who are much more fun. Jarback Priest is one of the adult men–he is a world traveler and a writer, and he discovers Emily in a vexing situation. They soon become kindred spirits.
All three of these men are quite taken with Emily–although since she is 12, it’s unclear to me whether Montgomery meant there to be any kind of “real” romance going on. Not sex, obviously, but is Jarback (who is in his early 30s) really planning on a future life with Emily when she is old enough? (That must be answered in the (two) sequels).
The story itself is not action packed. This is not a criticism by any means, it’s just a fact. 1920’s PEI was a pretty quiet place, where you played outside, read poetry and did farm and housework (especially if you were a woman). And Emily is primarily a writer. She writes poetry, she writes letters to her father and she writes stories (she gets in more than her share of trouble for writing so much).
The story felt very real (and it seems there are a lot parallels between Emily and L.M. herself), especially the parts about her wanting to write and being encouraged by the right sorts of people. The story also ends sort of in the middle of things. It’s doesn’t feel unfinished by any means, but it also is clearly designed for there to be more.
The only thing that took the story out of the reality that Emily inhabits was the fever dream that she has at the end. I won’t reveal that surprise, but I will say that it adds an element of mysticism to the story that comes as rather a surprise. It’s true that Emily lives in a kind of fantasy world (she speaks of the Wind Woman and of elves), so it may not be wholly inconceivable that she would have this “dream,” it just comes as quite a surprise.
The other interesting thing about the book is that Montgomery speaks of future Emily (grown up Emily) a few times in the book. This lets you know that no real harm will come to her in this book. It’s not explicit, there’s just a few glimpses into her older life, but for instance, in the one scene where she is in peril, since you know she survives to be an adult, you know that she will survive the peril. And I wondered if she added that to take some of the edge off for her young readers.
It seems to me that this book is written specifically for girls, so I am in no way the target audience. Nevertheless, the story was so well written and so alien to me that it was completely engaging. It was funny, frustrating, aggravating and joyous. And most of all it was charming. I strongly recommend it, and will certainly be reading the sequels.