07 April 2011

Please Hear Me Ohio

I had the occasion to first listen to Damien Jurado's song "Ohio" at a particularly lonely moment in time - living alone in Columbus in a sterile high rise studio apartment the fall after graduation, feeling that overwhelming anxiety that everyone does when the weather starts to turn and you begin to realize, as lame as it sounds, that this is a new indeterminate phase in life (that feeling does end, folks).

I'm not particularly diligent in consuming recommended songs, but once I get around to it, I generally fall in love. Between my 25 minute drive to and from work and time in an apartment without internet or television, I listened to a lot of mixes that were any combination of months or years old. They were filled with melancholy songs like "Ohio," Yo La Tengo's "I Feel Like Going Home," and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "A Strange Form of Life." It wasn't that I only liked sad songs, either. I also just desperately needed to decompress after a full day of Abercrombie & Fitch music blasting through the speakers of the corporate offices. If it was playing in the store, it was also playing in my cubicle, and aside from a pretty great remix of Rihanna's "Umbrella," every song was soul crushingly annoying.

I think I would have loved the song even if it weren't called "Ohio," but, as it happened, I started listening to it in a time of isolation and sadness living there. Of course it's not really about Ohio the place at all. It's about* a sad guy meeting a sad girl who is longing to return to Ohio to see her mother who she hasn't seen in ages. Even though I was personally longing for some other place, the slow guitar, persistent harmonica, and aching narrative combined with Jurado's mournful voice seemed to capture everything about that moment for me. And the best part is that the song is meaningful just because of that. I never searched Pitchfork to see if it had been deemed cool, I never looked up when the song was from, and I never listened another Damien Jurado song. It exists solely for that version of myself who lived in Ohio for nine months.

Some time after that, a friend directed me to a CocoRosie cover of the song.

Thanks to a voice that is somehow appealing even though the only way I can think to describe it is a 3-year-old shouting, the song is fundamentally altered, but the emotional resonance stays the same. I think it might be the addition of the lyrical "oooohhh seeeee you sometimes" in the background and the consistency of the harmonica.

This week TwentyFourBit linked a cover of "Ohio" by the new-to-me band Strand of Oaks, so of course I had to listen.

Strand of Oaks - "Ohio" (Damien Jurado Cover) by TwentyFourBit.com

I am all for a good cover song, no matter how drastically the original is altered, whether it's only slightly like Camera Obscura covering Bruce Springsteen or massively with Frente! covering New Order. But, this? I just don't like it. I get that it's nice sounding and that it's essentially the same song, but the vocals and the instrumentals are too pretty, too polished, like Ryan Adams crossed with Rufus Wainwright. I find myself yearning for the grittiness of the harmonica, Jurado's wobbly voice, and CocoRosie's crackly whine. There's no urgency in this version, no sense of loss.

Perhaps it's for the better. I don't have the capacity to love three versions of a song after "Tougher Than The Rest." Also, as a result of the news, I got to revisit a song that I loved dearly but had cycled out of my playlist over the past few years.

*I mean, I think that's what it's about. That line about "you see I was taken while I lay sleeping by my father's hired men" confuses me.Were they movers? Henchmen? Was she kidnapped?


Kyle said...

The only not-bleak answer I have for the henchmen line is that it's a matter of emphasis - the daughter wasn't taken by her father's hired man; rather, the mother was having an affair with the "hired man" (gardener? paralegal?). Think of it as "I was taken - while she lay sleeping by my father's hired man."

More to the point is that the narrator is living in Chicago, that sometime-mecca of Ohio-bred brilliance (Molina), and the brilliance of the song is that it sets itself up as a momentary meeting between the "sad guy and sad girl," but it's really just about the sad guy who loses the girl. Cue the hymn-like "See you sometime..."

I always liked that Cocorosie version because it sounded like something playing out of my Teddy Ruxpin tapedeck. So twee it hurts.

Kyle said...

Additionally, I got the Cocorosie version off the Believer's annual music issue, somehow making it even more twee.


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