Monday, December 9, 2013

A new Van Dyke Parks single

Van Dyke Parks has a new single out on the Bella Union label (also available from iTunes): “I’m History” b/w “Charm School.” “I’m History,” a lament for John F. Kennedy and lost hope, is a brilliant and moving song. It begins with a scene of Kennedy at the height of his Kennedyness, hosting a White House dinner for forty-nine Nobel Laureates:

When John F. Kennedy dined at the White House
he summoned the brightest and Nobel elite,
and he recalled the collection of talent
when Jefferson sat down alone there to eat.
He threw the laughter aside, said it can’t be denied,
there are those with no food at our feet.
That is history, brother and sister, to me, that’s history.
The song’s end, “in the dark before dawn,” evokes the 1932 Bonus Army and (less literally) the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and the 2011 Occupy movement:
And in a city of tents those with no recompense
are encamped on the broad White House lawn.
The people, yes? Well, maybe. A voice says “Move on,” and the singer folds up:
And I could paint you from old Deuteronomy
a richer picture to fix your economy,
but I’d offend you my friend, I surrender, the end. I’m
There is an imperfect but intensely exciting live performance of “I’m History” on YouTube — voice, piano, and bass. The recording though gives us what might be called the Full Parks — the song scored for strings and woodwinds. I’d like to see a single with both conceptions: call them “I’m History” and ”I‘m History Too.”

“Charm School” (written with Ira Ingber) suggests tropical and western vistas. It is a instrumental full of delights — steel drums, strings playing piano-like figures, snatches of slide guitar. According to Van Dyke’s tweets, “Charm School” has been kicking around for twenty years. Like all worthwhile music, it knows no time but its own and sounds like nothing but itself.

[“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”: John F. Kennedy, April 29, 1962.]

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