Music As Reading: Mixtape II, Songs for Natalie ‘Tusja’ Beridze, after Don Paterson
O who is this dark angel with her unruly Slavic eyebrows ranged like two duelling pistols, lightly sweating in the pale light of the TTF screen?
Writing actually about music was always going to be an early focus of Music As Reading – it represents a point at which a connection between music-listening and words-reading becomes kind of inevitable: here’s how a writer has described an artist slash song, now I’d better listen to it slash them myself to see how good a job he slash she did. Inevitable, then, but necessary? Does a writer writing about music have as much of an obligation to describe his subject with a precision and three-dimensionality capable of catalysing a reader’s mind’s-eye – without any kind of visual or aural aid – as, I don’t know, a travel-writer sketching a remote destination? Almost certainly – but looking at the breed of metaphor peddled by the NME (the chorus: Frank Black buttfucking Iggy with a barbed-wire-guitar whist Steve Albini squats in the background ejaculating asymmetrical reverb-lines by way of lubrication etc. etc.) rarely is this obligation met with much success (is it even possible?) And neither does justice or precision seem to be Don Peterson’s project with Song…, which owes more to the wonderful bad-poetry of William McGonagall than it does to the best of music journalism.
Rather, Song… is far more encyclopaedic than it is descriptive, choosing in the main to catalogue and generalise (although ‘a kind of glitch-hop Blossom Dearie’ is breathtakingly eloquent, it must be said). Indeed, against a backdrop of actual tracks, the poem sheds a good deal of its seeming music literacy, the sentence that inspires Part two of the mixtape appearing particularly problematic and uselessly generalising – until one remembers that the piece is, A, that rare thing, a genuinely funny poem, and B, as much an indictment of avant-garde electronic geekery as it is a celebration: ‘the true focus of one not merely content – as, no doubt, were others at the Mänover Elektronische Festival in Wien – / to hit play while making some fraudulent correction to a volume slider’. The layers of irony, deliberate obfuscation and acute, high-spec knowledge thus make for a more complex and challenging Music As Reading experience than, say, a haughty comparison of journalistic similes with the records they describe – isn’t writing about music far more about writing than it is about music?
(Don Paterson’s Song for Natalie ‘Tusja’ Beridze can be located in his latest volume of poetry, Rain, published by Faber)
…your fine vocals, which, while admittedly limited in range and force, are nonetheless much more affecting than the affected Arctic whisperings of those interchangeably dreary / Stinas and Hannes and Bjorks, being in fact far closer in spirit to a kind of glitch-hop Blossom Dearie…