I first heard Throwing Muses on a 4AD compilation I purchased in college called Lonely is an Eyesore. It’s a showcase of the British label’s artists at the time, bands with esoteric names like Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins. I loved every track on that album, and it formed the foundation for what continues to be my favorite kind of music: discordant, rhythmic, weird, poetic, and a little dark. To sum up, I love everything 4AD puts out. I loved it all in 1989, and I love it all now.
Back to Throwing Muses. My favorite track on Lonely is an Eyesore, and a song that remains one of my top 10 songs of all time to this day, is the one by Throwing Muses, the first American band to be signed by 4AD. It’s called Fish, and it reshaped my brain buds in 4 minutes and 39 seconds.[audio:http://www.lifemusicblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ThrowingMuses-Fish.mp3|titles=ThrowingMuses-Fish]
Bizarre, fever dream lyrics, right? I’m sure you caught that the name of the album was taken from Fish. “Lonely is as lonely does, lonely is an eyesore. The feeling describes itself.” And the music – it was like nothing I’d heard before. My heart knew I loved it long before my brain could form enough new synapses to process all the twists and turns.
Throwing Muses is led by Kristin Hersh (one third of my music trinity, for those keeping score. PJ Harvey and Kim Deal complete it. And me.) She is a genius. I have yet to say anyone is a genius that I’ve written about on this blog (not even PJ) so it means something. Her songs are trippy, harsh, genuine, mind expanding poems set to the tightest rhythm section and most ferocious (yet delicate) guitar work I’ve ever heard. Her voice is unlike anyone else’s, and keeps getting more powerful and resonant with each year. Seeing a woman my age up on stage shredding, melting the paint off the walls just with her voice, and basically kicking ass feeds my soul. It nourishes me.
I got a big All You Can Eat buffet of nourishment on Sunday night at the Bowery Ballroom. As Greg Garry writes in his Huffington Post article Throwing Muses Did It the Hard Way, “The band’s blistering set at Bowery Ballroom this week showcased how accomplished a guitarist Hersh is, and how tight her longtime rhythm section of drummer David Narcizo and bassist Bernard Georges are. For three little people they make one BIG ass sound.”1
Kristin came out alone for the first few songs as the “opening act.” The second song… Fish! Done with her guitar and voice only, no rhythm section. Pretty amazing. I was absolutely ecstatic.
The rest of the band (David Narcizo on drums and Bernard Georges on bass) joined her for the remaining 16 songs, one of which was off their first self-titled album (a British import that I don’t think was ever released in the States) and is my favorite song after Fish, called Vicky’s Box. I had a grin plastered across my face the entire time they played it. They killed this song. Her voice was unreal. She hit every note perfectly – no, BETTER than the album. Age seems to be adding intensity to her voice, which is giving the songs even more depth than when she first recorded them.[audio:http://www.lifemusicblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ThrowingMuses-Vickys-Box.mp3|titles=ThrowingMuses-Vicky’s Box]
The show was perfect in every way. The drums and bass were glorious: tribal, heavy, bone shaking. Add in Kristin’s artistic, mind blowing guitar work and voice, and you’ve got one hell of a performance.
Kristin’s music resonates with me all the more since my brother’s passing. A few years ago it came out that Kristin has battled bi-polar disorder for most of her life. She’s what I would call a success story – a survivor. My brother lost his battle with it on May 10, 2011 at the age of 36, after 18 years of fighting it every day. A lot of her music sounds like she’s exorcising demons, and maybe that ability to channel the internal disharmony into a creative work has been her salvation.
“A real song is something very difficult, it’s difficult to harness and it has nothing to do with your brain,” she says. “In fact, if your brain has anything to do with it, it will wreck it. It’s not easy for humans to let go of their brain.”
That’s from an article by DJ Lamphier called Kristin Hersh Reflects on Bipolar Disorder and ‘Harsh’ Youth in Memoir. Here’s more from her recently published memoir Rat Girl, about learning to create music out of the chaos in her head:
“Play colors, I think to myself, as the swishing voices conspire against me. This song doesn’t sound like colors, it sounds like… machines. That nurse was right. I do hear machines.
“There are notes in there though. I find them and play them, reduce the industrial orchestra I hear to a pathetic plunking. That melody needs a bed and chords come only through trial and error. So when a sound the guitar makes matches the sound that’s filling the Bullet, I keep that chord and move on to the next one. It gets easier each time, as one chord will set up the next, words in a sentence, then sentences in a paragraph.”
Throwing Muses ended their show (see the Bowery Ballroom set list) with another favorite, and one that resonates with me particularly, called Mania. This one’s for you, Jimmie. Welcome home.[audio:http://www.lifemusicblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ThrowingMuses-Mania.mp3|titles=ThrowingMuses-Mania]
1 Kristin and friends/bandmates/handlers walked right past me outside the club before the show – they really are way tinier than you’d expect given the sonic force of their music.