How I Got Here: Dean Jones (Laurie Anderson: Mister Heartbreak)

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Dean Jones is the mad genius behind Dog on Fleas and, as an in-demand producer, about a quarter of the kindie albums you'll hear in 2013.

With the upcoming release of his latest solo album, When the World Was New, on May 14, Jones authored the latest in the "How I Got Here" series, featuring kindie musicians talking about albums influencing them as musicians.

Dean's piece on composer/musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson's mid-'80s album Mister Heartbreak is a little bit like the album itself -- you can focus on the words and get some meaning, but you can also just focus on the sounds, the contour of the piece, and get a pretty good sense of its influence on him.

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Laurie Anderson's 1984 album Mister Heartbreak is one of my all time favorite records.

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It's a little hard for me to talk about music.  (Kind of like dancing about architecture.)  But this album is more than just music to me.  It's a sculpture.  It's stories.  Sound.  Color.   It puts me in a mood.  I can't describe the mood that very well.  Open.  Playful.  Thoughtful.   Meditative.  

This album certainly changed the way I hear music.  And it really clarified for me the fact that I'm as much in love with SOUND as I am with music.  Is there really a difference?  I think so.  I know that I have fallen in love with the sounds on the Beatles records.  And Tom Waits records.  And I have always been drawn to certain sounds, like the Indonesian gamelon instruments, and  the various one and two-stringed fiddle type instruments found in various societies as far from each other as Mongolia and Mali.  I also like the sound of all kinds of birds.  Is it their song or just the tone and timbre of their voices?  I like the sound of footsteps, grass rustling, breathing, trees rubbing up against each other.... the list goes on and on.  Tongues touching teeth.  

Somehow this album made it quite clear to me that one could make music that could be closer to sculpture than to any traditional song form.  The sounds evoke images in my mind of elephants, sunrises, movement, and space.  Wonder, and longing.  All kinds of feelings come up.  The sounds are sometimes like a world of their own.  I could live in them.  

"He was an ugly guy.  With an ugly face. An also-ran in the human race.  And even God got sad just looking at him.  And at his funeral all his friends stood around looking sad.  But they were really thinking of all the ham and cheese sandwiches in the next room."

Laurie Anderson is a master of language.  An amazing storyteller and poet.  She loves to look at big things like humanity and love, and stories like Adam and Eve, and rethink them from her unique perspective.   And her delivery, mostly spoken, not sung, is so much more musical to me than most singers are.  The nuance of her rhythm and phrasing is incredible.  I love to listen to music, whether it's instrumental, sung in English, or any other language, and I often just tune out the words.  It's just how I listen.  Sometimes I tune into lyrics, but often it's just a texture.  And with Laurie Anderson's voice I am happy to just let the lyrics ebb and flow in and out of my conscious listening.  But I can listen to this record twice back to back and allow myself to follow her stories more on the second listen.

Here's a bit of her Adam and Eve retelling:

"And the woman liked the snake very much.  Because when he talked he made little noises with his tongue, and his long tongue was lightly licking about his lips.  Like there was a little fire inside his mouth and the flame would come dancing out of his mouth.  And the woman liked this very much.  And after that she was bored with the man.  Because no matter what happened, he was always as happy as a clam."

Maybe I'm seduced by the sound of Laurie Anderson's voice, but I think her writing is genius.  

Something that sound sculpture like this allows for -- words don't have to rhyme.  You don't have to have everything be totally divisible by 4 or 8.  You can, but you don't have to.  The words can fit into spaces.  You can leave spaces.  Or not.   Even the music doesn't always have to be divisible by 4.  It can be in no time signature.  

So, what are the sounds on this record?  Well the guitars don't often sound like guitars.  And I still don't know who's making what sounds most of the time.  The sounds are hypnotic and magnetic.  Laurie sometimes puts her voice through a vocoder, which was a pretty new thing at the time, well before it became a Top 40 gimmick.  Some of the instruments listed:  plywood, kayagum, electronic conches, iya and ikonkolo, bamboo, gato, Synclavier, bowls.  Adrien Belew plays some of the greatest guitar you will ever hear.  Peter Gabriel, Nile Rodgers, Bill Laswell, and William Burroughs are heavily featured.   

I was thinking about my latest album, When the World Was New, and realized what a debt I owe to Laurie Anderson, lyrically and musically.  It may not sound at all like her, but she's in there for sure.