01 November 2010

Songs and Clothes

A friend recently sent me Joanna Newsom's "Does Not Suffice," a mournful song about a relationship dissolving and the methodical, sentimental act of packing and moving out.  In the song, Newsom uses lovely and specific words ("coats of boucle, jacquard and cashmere") to describe the materials and adornments that she is packing away, adding an easy poetry to a type of song that we've heard many times before.

Clothes are not an uncommon subject for songs - they can add an immediate sense of context and specificity to stories made intentionally bland to uphold some sense of universality. What this song gets so right  is the reliance on fabrics names that are fundamentally pretty words, and the consequence of adding a level of reality to the emotions she is trying to convey. Newsom could have made the song vulgar as many modern singers do by adding brand names and associations with specific styles. But she doesn't - we just get glimpses of of the "gilded buttons" she is tucking away, and the generic silks that she is binding in shapeless bales and wrapping in reams of tissue.

So what other songs get clothes right?  (And not in the Kanye West, "Material Girl" kind of way...)

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