Monday, February 21, 2011

Bonnie 'Prince Billy' - A Whorehouse is Any House

A Whorehouse is Any House

I've maintained for years and will continue to maintain until evidence to the contrary arises that Will Oldham is the best there is at the songwriting style of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, et al. The phrase singer-songwriter irks not just because it reminds one of so much garbage music but also because it doesn't seem to really describe anything musical. Terminology aside, this is a recognizable categorization of musicians, if not necessarily a genre -- right?

Anyway, I call Oldham the best at this. His great songs are at least as sublime as those of the more famous aforementioned, his body of work more varied with more success (not counting his lame album of Nashville-style self-covers), his voice richer and more interesting, his collaborators superior. Oh, and he writes good words. That's not my main interest with most music, but dude has made me love the poetry of song more regularly than anyone else.

And so I'm going to share this one Oldham gem, which shines all the brighter for me as I only managed to hear it on a CD-R a friend copied me years ago of Palace / Bonnie Prince Billy ephemera. A quick search turns up that it was the b-side on a Sub Pop 7" from '99. Apparently it bears the provocative title "A Whorehouse is Any House." News to me.

In a perfect gentle harmony with a woman named Glynnis McDaris (according to Discogs), accompanied by first-take casual/lazy guitar, bass, and percussion (is that someone patting on a table?), the narrator of the song describes following a woman home from a bar, both of them drunk. A classic singalong-friendly chorus -- with all the beauty of a pre-pop folk tune and none of the hokiness of almost all imitators of pre-pop folk tunes -- affirms his love of the pursuit of the woman over the actual attainment: "And I needed so much to have nothing to touch / and I wanted so dear to have nothing so near." Or maybe it's not even that straightforward. Does he lust after having nothing? (Recalling the epic line from Days in the Wake "When you have no one, no one can hurt you" -- that might not seem so epic being quoted, but listen to it sung and be convinced).

Apparently that's not it either, as right after the chorus he's in her room (though "her room is my world"?) and he slips in to her bed, still apparently unacknowledged, and "she doesn't stir, so I saddle up warmer and warmer to her." There follows a transcendent musical goof: four bars of synth sexy time.

And then one more time with that chorus that I can hear a thousand times and keep wanting to hear again.

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