Though I’m a sucker for a book of lyrics I usually read and discard – realising as I’m reading it that most lyrics deserve to hang in the air, are made for the stage more so than the page; it’s nice to check in with them, really ever is it the intention of the writer that the words be collected, or the determination that they should mean something – but when it does all line up, when it works, there’s a joy to rediscovering your favourite lines, to hearing them and reading them and feeling them outside and away from the music.
Kristin Hersh’s lyrics – the selling point for so many – though that somehow relegates her mercurial melodies and that phenomenal growl of a voice, have long been a focus for fans. She also writes in that poetic way where meaning isn’t always easy to grasp, or can mean many things, something different in the ear of each listener.
The songs arrive, fully formed, as dreams. They come to her, wake her, urge themselves upon her, beg to be written down, pinned down, caught. That’s how Hersh has often described it – including in her memoirs to date (Rat Girl and Don’t Suck, Don’t Die – both must-reads) but here we see the full evidence.
Selected by Hersh this collection covers her solo works, the Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave, there’s no chronology, they’ve been chosen and assembled as a standalone volume, a book of poetry that just happens to contain words you’ve heard before.
Sometimes it’s the opening lines – “My heart goes out to you/A lover on a night with no moon”, other times just a phrase – “honeysuckle voodoo”, somehow it can make no sense and all the sense in the world all at once.
These are evocative phrases, they place you somewhere, anywhere other than you are – they transport you, take you to a mythical place, put you somewhere where you could not put yourself.
There are lines from Hersh I love – “On my knees/ I can see/ All your better qualities/So you freeze/I make frozen into heat” – and I know them without reading them, as I say them to myself I hear her voice and the guitar, the rest of the musical arrangement is there too, but they read in my head like the best poetry. Making sense and no sense at the same time, making a place that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
This book reminded me of several more.
It’s also a book that promotes the very best of crowd-funding, a model Hersh has long embraced, the very model that keeps her artwork alive – here, via Unbound, crowd-funders supported the notion of this book, the publisher splits the money with the writer, offering a better percentage than any other publisher and the backers are named in the book. But it’s a lovely production too, from the magnificent cover design down to the typesetting and look and feel of the book.
It’s a gift for fans. And Hersh fans hang on her strange, beguiling, magical words. Her worlds.
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