I’ve spent the last few months trying to figure out an artistic outlet for the voice that wants out of me concerning our country’s impending change in direction, and I’ve been wholly unsuccessful. I find myself quoting other writers, trying to make connections among myriad texts and moments, binge-planning potential projects, and feeling hollow about them all. At work, I’m energized, but otherwise I’m feeling a little bereft, spinning in circles.
Meanwhile, amazingly, people keep reading this modest blog and asking me why I’m not writing more of them.
I’m re-committing to the blog for awhile and we’ll see what happens. I’m gonna start slow and follow where it takes me; maybe writing about one thing will lead me to another, and maybe remembering the past will help me find a voice about the present.
So it’s back to basics for this quiet, tentative return; I hit shuffle and took the first tune the Pod offered, my favorite Patti Griffin track from her debut record.
Griffin’s first record is essentially the demo she recorded in preparation to make a debut record. After struggling to give the songs a full-band treatment, she released this version instead. It’s a great lesson in the pitfalls of record-making (sometimes you can gild the lily) but I also think it ultimately hurt her as a recording artist, as her audience expected her to be a folk troubadour going forward, and she had greater ambitions than that. I happen to be a Patti Griffin fan who prefers her full band albums (Flaming Red and Silver Bell) and feel sad for her that she’s been forced to return repeatedly to acoustic music to satisfy her less-imaginative fanbase. That said, there’s something undeniable about the power of this performance.
I can’t decide whether “Every Little Bit” is a song about a regretful but pursued encounter, or a rape, or a confession about her emotional isolation, or a little bit of all of the above. I love the skeletal guitar riff (easy enough for a beginner to play, but memorable and effective) and while the vocal is a little showy at the end, if I could sing like that, you better believe I’d hit those notes often.
My most vivid memory of this song was hearing it live. I saw Patti open for Shawn Colvin in 1996 when Colvin was touring her breakup album A Few Small Repairs. Patti was a solo acoustic opener, and my seat was in the balcony of what was then the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa (now called something else— Wells Fargo Entertainment Box, or something like that). I had heard of her, and maybe given the record a cursory spin at a Tower Records, but I wasn’t particularly moved by it. In those days, though, I never missed the opening act. I had been in my seat for about ten minutes when the lights went out, and Griffin walked onstage at 8:01pm (things start PUNCTUALLY at performing arts centers). My first thought was how slight she looked— the guitar looked enormous on her. She went right into the riff that leads off this tune, opened her mouth, and filled the room instantly. It was one of the most impressive first twenty seconds of a show I’ve ever seen. She absolutely killed the whole song, and I was sitting at just the right angle for her guitar to catch the light and shine right at me. It remains a vivid concert memory two decades later. While the rest of the set was strong, and I left a fan, nothing topped those first five minutes.
My view that night...
In 1996, especially, it spoke to that twenty-something kid in the balcony who was also just figuring out how to come out of his own wiry shell and not see nighttime encounters as skirmishes. I remember feeling instant kinship with the fractured loneliness embedded both in the lyrics and in the voice, and since I was at the height of my sensitive-ponytail-solo-acoustic music career, I think I went home and wrote a dozen crummy knockoffs. Listening all the years later, I feel pretty far removed from its jagged disaffection. And I believe Patti now lives with Robert Plant, so hopefully she’s doing better also.
See you soon.