What draws a Green Man into the desert? Melodies, bones, and ghosts, I’d say. We go on these pilgrimages from time to time, searching for our heart’s home, and often it’s the border country of the American West that calls. Coyote? Well, yes she’s here, but more often than not, it’s that little man with the flute that lures us into a world that borders our own simply because the ghosts linger longer in arid land. — Kim in her ‘What Draws a Green Man into the Desert?’ essay
Iain, your usual host here, begged off this week as he’s got the applications for potential incoming Several Annies, his Library apprentices who start in late Summer, to go over. He’s got his first applicant from one of the First Nations and another who’s Maori.
Now it’s indeed quite true much of fiction here is grounded firmly in the English, Celtic and European mythologies such as Midori Snyder’s The Flight of Michael Macbride or Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy (although I’ll readily admit, the latter makes use of a less familiar European tradition), but a number of books reviewed by us have been rooted instead in the much different lore of the Southwestern USA, where Catholic beliefs merge easily (mostly) into the much older beliefs of the First Folk who have been here much longer than the later European settlers.
Likewise the music, food and other aspects of the culture reflect the mergers of disparate elements into something uniquely new, say Tex-Mex music with Celtic as in the case of The Mollys, a band that once existed here, or perhaps in Bad Wolf, the band that exists in The Wood Wife, the novel by Terri Windling, that merges these disparate elements too.
Though most of Charles de Lint’s more recent work, both novels and shorter pieces, is set in his invented city, Newford, and its environs, some of his work is set in the Southwestern USA. One of these is a splendid novel called Medicine Road which features the two of the Dillard sisters from Seven Wild Sisters, now folk musicians on tour in that region.
Grey says of Medicine Road that ‘I suppose it’s fitting, for a story about twos, that the creators are two Charleses. Charles Vess’s illustrations make this not-so-simple fable deeper and richer. Vess combines line drawing and painting in a way that makes his pictures simultaneously vividly life-like and fairy tale-remote.’
There’s a bar in Medicine Road where the sisters play called A Hole in The Wall which de Lint borrowed from Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife (with permission). It’s possible that The Wood Wife is the first modern fantasy to take full advantage of the myths of this region. Grey says of the latter novel that it is ‘not only an expertly-crafted tale of suspense. It also stands squarely within the realm of modern fantasy. Windling’s Arizona desert comes alive with fey beings, shapeshifters small and great that are as mysterious and amoral as any European Fair Folk, yet practical and earthy and distinctively Native American in their coloration.’
Though not actually set here, de Lint’s Forests of The Heart novel starts off here and draws in part on the myths of this region, so I highly recommend it for your reading pleasure.
I shall finish this section off with Smoking Mirror Blues, a novel by Ernest Hogan. Cat says of it that ‘In the very near future, the citizens of Los Angeles are preparing to celebrate Dead Daze, a bacchanalian rave of a holiday that’s an over-the-top merging of All Hallows Eve, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Mardi Gras. The reawakened Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, riding the body of a human, is feeling quite well, thank you! And let’s not forget that the Day of the Dead, which forms part of Dead Daze, is at its heart a time when the barriers between the dead and the still-living are all but completely erased. So maybe the gods do walk again … And this holiday, not dissimilar to the one in the Strange Days movie, needs National Guard troops to prevent rioting!’
Robert brings us a look at a graphic novel series set (pretty much) in the Southwest, but the traditions it draws on — well, we can’t really call them “native.” See what we mean in his review of Preacher: Gone to Texas. Just to warn you: ‘It turns into a bit more than the story of one man’s search for God, however literally Ennis may have decided to portray it. This first volume shows every sign of a series that is turning into a look at America’s underbelly. It’s rough, it’s crude, it’s violent, but if the assholes win, it’s usually short-term …’ Oh, and one more warning: there are six reviews; just click on the link at the bottom of each one to be magically transported to the next.
Jack has a look at a album of an unusual nature: ‘Let me start this review off by saying that most of what the musician who created Jackalope, R. Carlos Nakai, plays leaves me terribly bored. Yes, bored. Bored quite stiff. Even the other Jackalope albums that I’ve heard over the years were not very interesting for me. But Dances with Rabbits has had more playings in this household that I can count as it simply has not a less than stellar cut on it.’
Kim in her review of Trouble says ‘Disclosure: I’m a long time Molly’s fan! Live, recorded, whatever, I’m there. There’s something about the world-weary defiance, the determination to feel joy — or at least pleasure — in The Mollys’ music, that warms the soul. For the unitiated, The Mollys have always combined Celtic and Tex Mex influences in a heady blend that seems almost, but not quite, like the Appalachia meets Cowboy influenced-music that made alt-country popular.’
Gary says Calexico’s Feast of Wire is one of his so-called desert-island discs. He liked it a lot when he originally reviewed it in 2003, too. ‘The elements all fit together into a unified whole, its disparate parts forming a pleasing if somewhat disorienting picture that perfectly reflects the jumble of cultures and landscapes in which the music is set.’
Singing Bones was the first album Brett and Rennie Sparks (The Handsome Family) released after they moved from Chicago to Albuquerque, Gary notes. He finds it appealing if a bit transitional in feel. ‘That the songs are often equally sad and funny is part of the appeal; the rest comes from Brett’s deft melodies and his deadpan deep-voiced delivery of Rennie’s lyrics.’
Musicians in northern Mexico have a long tradition of ballads called ‘corridos’ that tell stories of everyday occurrences and the exploits of heroes and crooks. Gary reviews a release from Smithsonian Folkways called Heroes & Horses: Corridos from the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. ‘The songs themselves are a capsule history of northern Mexico, from the exploits of the bandit Joaquin Murrieta to the 1994 Zapatista uprising, as well as tragic duels over women, mining disasters, train explosions and famous horse races. All were recorded between 1995 and 1999.’
No overview of contemporary Southwestern Americana music would be complete, Gary says, without a mention of Howe Gelb. He reviewed two releases from Gelb, one under his own name and the other as The Band of Blacky Ranchette — neither under the moniker of his main project Giant Sand. He notes, ‘The Listener is the more accessible of these two discs, but both are fine examples of thoughtful, independent Americana.’
Befitting the theme this week of the roots and branches of the southwest USA, I’m going to leave you with music by Joni Mitchell and Calexico.
Yes Joni Mitchell. It’s her take on the coyote myth that de Lint uses in his fiction. So here’s ‘No Regrets Coyote’ performed in concert by her at the Sydney Opera House Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on the 3rd of March 1983. If the song sounds familar to you, it might well be because she performs it in The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese film of The Band’s last concert.
Our second song comes from the genius that’s the band called Calexico in the form of Sunken Waltz, a song that starts off telling the story of American corporate greed along the Border before veering into… Well just go listen to it.