Monday, January 19, 2009

The Wisdom of Jericho Brown (Part 2 of 2)

Jericho Brown's got a new book of poetry out, Please, which is so funky and beautiful it hurts. One of the featured poems, "All That Crawls Beneath Me," was in last summer's Indiana Review Funk feature. Jericho drops some more knowledge on you.

1. What is your favorite Donny Hathaway song?

I've been listening to the "You Are My Heaven" duet with Roberta Flack as this is something I've been thinking about a good deal lately in the midst of reading and re-reading Ed Pavlic's Winners Have Yet to Be Announced.

Right now, I'm pretty sure that Hathaway's voice is somehow the saddest--yes, even sadder than Phyllis Hyman. Hyman manages sass and grit in upbeat disco numbers; Hathaway, on the other hand, takes a lyric like "I won't let them take you away" in a song as light as "You Are My Heaven" and focuses on the fear of actually being left alone. Something in his voice seems to see the awful in even the sweetest of expressions. A good example is the way in which Lalah Hathaway, his daughter, manages to fully mimic him in her version of "For All We Know" (The Song Lives On with Joe Sample) save for the tragedy in his version. It wasn't until I heard her version that I realized that the song was about trying to get some and using a really lame line to make it happen. In contrast, I always thought the song was about the real possibility of death arriving before the opportunity to make love when I listened to the late Hathaway sing it.

Hathaway is special. More than that, I believe he was at once conscious and unconscious of how special he and his voice is. We can't say that about Aretha Franklin: she knows good and well what she's doing every song, every God damned note.

But none of that answers what you asked me. While growing up, my favorite was “Song for You” because the piano in it always made me cry. No matter how many times I heard the bridge, I couldn’t get myself ready for it. It’s one of those songs that put my childhood in slow motion. I mean that literally. I thought it was some kind of magic. I could play that song and people who only knew how to yell would start whispering.

Donny Hathaway - A song for you
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Lately, though, it’s been “For All We Know” because it’s really good for foreplay.

2. Funkier: Neck bones or Candied Yams?

Neckbones. Yams are too sweet.

3. What are you reading?

George Oppen and the really good unpublished manuscripts of Dwayne Betts, Jennifer Chapis, Deniz Perin, and Sasha West. It’s a great show. You gotta see it.

4. What advice would you offer a writer whose considering an MFA?

Go to the University of New Orleans. It’s the only MFA in town.

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