Monday, 27 January 2014
Carita Holmström - We Are What We Do (Finland, 1973)
"Finnish pianist, singer and composer of jazz, pop and classical music, born February 10th, 1954 in Helsinki, Finland. She took part in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with the song 'Älä Mene Pois'. "
This was her first album, and there's a great little self-written blurb up there on the top left corner on the back. So the title is about her life in music. She recalls to me such Scandinavian artists as Maru and Mikael or the acoustic songs of Baltik.
Note that it's Carita who plays the acoustic piano so gorgeously all throughout this record. She wrote the songs as well except for track A4, Yes' Time and a Word (by Jon Anderson and David Foster) -- how this song made it here flummoxes me, it seems to stand out. Her work at least so far as this record is concerned is very much a part of the seventies zeitgeist with its earnest insistence of all of us liking each other as brothers, saving trees, and singing to the earth. That super-idealism is what makes this to me and hopefully to others out there so poignant and heart-breakingly beautiful. It's unfortunate that those principles were so fully disregarded. What happened to that "new world a-comin' " in the words of Duke Ellington?
In mood some of this reminds me of my beloved Radka Toneff, I've mentioned before how Scandinavian music often leans towards the melancholic, surely not surprising when considering its environment, as one can see from the predilection in Caribbean music for the festive.
Now consider the last track which is called "The Knight." I will reprint in full the beautiful lyrics. The remainder of the album is absent any Christian references, so this dream she has about the medieval knight who puts her sword on her and then vanishes, to me, seems more like a vividly actual dream than a religious vision. But the ambiguity of it is there, it can be interpreted (to the detriment of the artistic quality in my opinion) as a faith conversion too. Perhaps the beauty of it lies in this 'over-interpretation' as Freud would have called it. The musical interplay between acoustic bass and piano recalls Bill Evans and Herbie Mann discussing Nirvana and is really utter perfection, the lilting of the waltz tempo adding to the dreaminess. There is a great intermission section in which piano and bass travel down from the key of G to F major, to D minor 6, to B half-diminished, back to A minor, with sustained bass (i.e., played with a bow). Notice too the quivering E note played by the acoustic bass at the end of stanzas, that perfectly simulates a knight holding his sword. (Incidentally, the bass is played by Pekka Sarmanto, brother of famed composer Heikki Sarmanto.) This is the sort of touch of artistry that made Radka's records such a delight.
"On a Sunday afternoon I heard the church bells distantly ringing out
On a Sunday afternoon on a day in spring,
I heard the sound of streaming water, in a dream.
And the sounds from the motorway suddenly disappeared,
Faded out to a sound like trumpets playing
And he was there, the knight, in his silver armour, from ancient times.
He looked at me, I stared at him, and the white horse with golden wings stood beside him.
He took his sword, took a step towards me, and he lay it on my shoulder.
And then it returned-- the trumpet sound, and he was gone for a battle.
He was gone, the knight, in his silver armour, from ancient times.
On a foggy afternoon, on a day in spring
I heard the church bells distantly ringing out.
On a Sunday afternoon on a day in spring,
I heard the sound of streaming water in a dream."
Incredible, utterly lovely. So seventies.
Now let's rewind back to the beginning. In prognotfrog's write-up on Kurt Memo's Capt. Thunder the issue of unintentionally humorously earnest seventies lyrics was discussed at length.
Consider the second song:
"Standing here at the top of the hill, singing to the earth,
Standing here looking down to the valley, singing to the earth,
Nobody in the world is near me,
Nobody in the world can hear me,
Here I stand feeling oh so lonesome now..."
Anyone who grew up in the 1970s like me will be reminded of Coke's classic ad of "I'd like to teach the world to sing" or Sesame Street's comparable and equivalent: "Sing a song, make it simple, to last your whole life long..." which my own small kids still love to hear me play.
On track A5 (We've got to change) meantime she discusses the political strife in the world circa 1973:
"This is a funny world we're living in.
No room for feelings, no room for love.
People turning their backs on you
'cause they've forgotten the way to live--
and in their eyes you can see weariness and boredom,
in their eyes you can see a locked-up soul,
in their eyes you can see, they want to feel.
We got to change, take the sword of hate out of each others' hearts
and look into each others' eyes and say, I like you."
Surely that would go over well at one of the meetings of the G20.
So no, we didn't change.
But let me ask you this: did we miss the boat? Aren't we today well aware we took the wrong path in that forked road, down the path of consumerism, vanity, and short-term gratifications, instead of the narrow road less travelled of postponement and care for each other, blithely chopping down that last truffula tree? Don't we, seriously, all realize this to the same degree we are helpless to do anything about it? Few people cannot be aware of the insanity of endless consumption, the effects of it on the world today, particularly in poor countries, and the future our children will live in, and especially the incessant boredom that is the partner to continuous self-gratification. So what she is saying is as true as it ever was, but we have newer and more cynical or modern ways to ignore the message. We have to couch the prescription in medical or scientific terms, encouraging walks in nature and reassuring bromides or Oprah'ídes that giving will make us happier people, rather than admitting the truth of it. Don't you think so? I suppose this is a case where our human nature was too powerful for us to suppress, and if you're a pessimist like me, you realize we are innocent, we couldn't help ourselves, we'll destroy this world and our species who like all others is entirely dependent on it.
But I hope for the sake of my young children that if doom does come, it comes later rather than sooner-- and all those parents out there better be agreement on this point... which is why it does matter what we do and say today.
I want to thank my friend for purchasing this album-- well, first of all for being aware of it, and then for introducing me and the rest of those with open minds to yet another beautiful and long-lost singer. Although at first I wasn't sure this was even good, it grew on me after several listens and now, these last days, I can't stop playing it.