Sunday, August 27, 2006

harps & unicorns (and other fey ponderings)

"I used to want to play the harp when I was a kid," I admitted to Guillem.

I'd dragged him with me to see Neko Case, Martha Wainwright and Joanna Newsom at the McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn. I hadn't warned him that Joanna Newsom plays the harp.

Guillem is not a folk fan (and she's been lumped in as part of the "Freak Folk" movement) and wasn't looking forward to hearing Ms. Newsom up on stage with her harp. It wasn't the best sort of venue for that sort of thing (standing and harp listening don't go hand-in-hand). The McCarren Park Pool is a huge, old pool that had been abandoned and only recently has been used as an outdoor concert venue. I'd been wanting to see it since I've been promoting it for a few months and the lineup of shows has been remarkable. Plus, I'd never heard Joanna Newsom live, and I never miss an opportunity to hear Neko or Martha Wainwright.

Newsom sounds like Bjork, and she plays the harp like she's Ani Difranco: It makes for a strange experience. She started out with the Decemberists tune and then launched into 20-minute long, loopy songs. Not for the faint of heart.

But back to wanting to play harp. It was a desire of mine when I was in elementary school. I just thought, what an elegant instrument. Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to make music with that thing? Of course it was most probably fueled by my obsession with fairies and unicorns and all things enchanted. I'd check out the TimeLife "Enchanted World" book collection on gnomes and fairies, read about changelings and mysterious mushroom circles where things unexplained happened. I collected fabulous glossy stickers of unicorns and would spend hours drawing them.

"How could your parents not know you were gay," Guillem asked at this revelation.

"Because they didn't know what gay was," I said. Plus, I was their first child, they had nothing to compare to, and although they didn't indulge my fey ways, it's not like they kept me from my sketches of pegasus and unicorns, or my hidden desire to be a harpist. Of course I got over the fascination with horns and rippling, muscular horse flesh. I realized how silly it was to want to play the harp.

And somehow this enchanting woman who never lost that dream is turning a generation of ironic hipsters on to an instrument that just doesn't seem to belong on a rock stage. Until now.


At 3:36 PM, Blogger Jazzy Justin said...

Cool. I should check out her harp playing.

Your childhood sounds so much like mine, with all the unicorn drawing and shit, but unlike you, I sprang for the string bass instead of the harp. But, I guess it's similar.

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Gayest Neil said...

You know I own the ENTIRE Enchanted World series, right?


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