Emma Townshend's WINTERLAND
It was in 1998 and much of life was tenuous and stressfull. A good friend of mine had lost both of his elderly parents within nine months and he himself was on his way out and in poor health due to severe substance abuse and depression. When I read that Pete's daughter Emma Townshend had released her first disc I was really intrigued and almost at once I was playing the disc round the clock. My friend also liked the music a great deal, especially "I Dream of Being Well" aka "Groundswell" which summed it all up. It would be a dream come true to hear Emma and Rachel Fuller sing/play together, as they are my two favorite female artists of recent years- actually ever. Winterland holds a very special place in my music collection.
Emma's disc starts out with a sweet Emily Dickinson poem "Better than Music" set to a easy, breezy ukelele and than segues into the ultimate stalker song (appropriate for some nutty bloggers)
"The Last Time I saw Sadie."
"You know how it is,
She's too much in The Sun
Something made me a little Hinckley
And now am saving bits of paper
For my psycho bedroom
I'll pick a writ with her
Listening to jealousy
Put on her records
Sit in the darkness
Listening to jealousy"
The next three songs are very eerie and sad: "Walk At Night" ("Makes you a hunter even when your vegetarian makes you a burglar even if you're honest") , "Ghost Kitchen" and "My Angel Of Vertigo."
"Walk At Night" always reminded me of Arthur C Clarke's "A Walk In The Dark" where the main character walks a lonely patrol on a distant moon, fearing and enraged by that fear. He could have stayed where it was safe but instead he has to go out at night. He tells himself that he is not being logical and that it's simply nerves
yet the alien with jaws awaits him when he sadly is almost home.
This leads into the very romantic "The Ambition of My Heart"
"The ambition of my heart
Reveals itself to be
The desire to spend sometime
In your arms"
Such truth. "Groundswell" is a mini epic which includes lyrics from the gospel spiritual "By The Rivers of Babylon" (also a hit for Boney M)It was at that time in my life that I was discovering Paul Robeson and I thought of him lying there in state after his death. Not very cheerfull images I know but these were sad days.
But although Emma's disc has a spooky T-Rex feel, it's mostly optimistic music.
"Five Aside Football" is the great single and it will be a hit someday. It just says it all about leaving your carefree youth behind:
"I guess somewhere I signed something
forgot to read the little writing
Because when i got where i wanted to be
That place flashed by like lightning
Dream is going big time
James a Tailor
Five a side Football
Think of all the money we're making"
The last three songs, "Wish Finger", "How Gardens Grow" and "The Ladder" are very beautiful, lyrical and all are much brighter and sunnier than the songs at the start of the disc but oddly it somehow rounds out in the end like a song cycle (dare I say rock opera?) "The Ladder" talks about flying over the city like 'The Light Princess.'
I'm glad I remembered that six months when all I played was this disc, Pete, The Who, Entwistle and Paul Robeson music. Happiness and ease from all that strife seemed inconceivable but I came out of the dark tunnel, river Styx, Hades whatever you want to call it. I'm so glad I had music like 'Winterland' to make sure I made a safe passage even when others could not. According to Wikipedia, Emma is a Professor of Economics at Oxford, may she deign to record more music someday as it is very memorable what she's done so far. I recalled most of the lyrics off the top of my head.
This is a wonderful disc and deserves to be rediscovered by listeners and critics alike.(Thanks to Justin Kreutzmann for the photos)