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Hissing... Print-ready version

by Jezriley French
jezrileyfrench.wordpress.com
August 16, 2023

The Blue Settee (extract)*

Most days I sit on a blue settee, the same one that runs through the story of these years.

I was still in my teens when I met Julia. It took a while but eventually we found our way to each other and were together for many years. We shared much; the first holidays and first flats as a couple, running a business, and significant loss.

In the early days of our relationship I remember an afternoon when Julia played me some of the records she liked most. It was the first time i'd heard Joni Mitchell's 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns', an album that changed my relationship to her music, a revelation. (3). I now sometimes find myself unable to remember what seem to be important events in detail; the shape of a room in our first flat together, or what it felt like to hold Julia's hand. If I think about any of these things too much I admit I miss having the ability to recall them fully, yet I have a clear memory of listening to some of the music that day in Julia's room; Hissing, Ah-Um by Charles Mingus, Love Songs by Peter Hammill & The Wishing Chair by 10,000 Maniacs.

Prior to this my knowledge of Joni's music was limited. I had a copy of Clouds, but I hadn't fully connected to the full range of her work. Many years later, long after Julia and I had parted, I was interviewed for the book 'In The Field', and asked about the early influences on my interest in field recording. I fudged my answer, thrown by the question somehow and that the interview was taking place in a crowded Kings Cross station, where I found it difficult to focus. Thinking back as I have a number of times when discussing the same question, I don't think I mentioned any of the actual early experiences of listening to 'place' that were important, either recorded or not. Some I'll discuss later in this text, but over the years I've come to realise that this entirely studio based album by Joni was one of them. The title itself 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns', communicates place and situation. It carries sound with it; a detailed audible landscape of suburban life, thirsty and stale in the tight heat of summer, quenched by automated sprinklers. A field recording. A reminder of the space between flat documentation that is too often constrained by ideas of technology as the arbiter of worth, and the poetics of transmission. The lives trapped or freed by the manicured lawns, the summer drenched with insects and cooling spray. In that one title there is, in my opinion, more poetry than many other writers have been lauded for. I've included it in a talk I've been doing for a number of years now, on correcting the histories of sound linked to place, in the context of field recording, sound art and how the filtering often involved has narrowed those fields. These are conversations not formal lectures, the success of them based on everyone in the room.

The songs on Hissing, and those on Hejira, the only album by Joni I could find to buy in the days after first hearing Hissing, are all steeped in the sounds of place, often as they interact with the shaping of their protagonists lives. At least that is how I heard them. The combination of Joni's words and my own growing understanding of a connection to audible detail, pushed the music into my imagination. Neither myself or Julia had navigated the city littered streets, desert tarmacs, or the snow covered pinewood forests in those songs, but they sparked. The sound of dress fabric held in anticipation, lives vast, singing in their fragments.

Thank you Joni. Thank you Julia. Even just that one afternoon with you, listening, still reaches somewhere in me.

(3) How much the people we love shape aspects of our lives, even after we part. I have listened to that album thousands of times in the years since, sharing it with my daughter, Pheobe, listening on long drives across afternoons or home in evenings talking, drawing, cooking food.

*The Blue Settee (extract) is part of a text focusing on my years working in the music industry, from sales assistant in a record store, to specialist buyer then head of UK sales, through to establishing, in the 1990's, the first ethical distributor of specialist musics, handling over a thousand labels from around the world.

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Added to Library on December 14, 2023. (846)

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