Monday, August 4, 2008

“in [Bob] Dylan’s songs, each word is like a stone or a brick that fits together perfectly.”

After surreptitiously eyeing each other from across the room at 88 Orchard, a pleasantly idyllic café on the Lower East Side, Jessy Ginsberg and I finally realize whom the other is (I really should wear a trucker hat or apron that says “blogger”), so we convene at her table to chat about her blossoming music career.

As we settle down with our drinks, I expect her to tell me that she’s been playing the guitar since she was nine months old and began singing even before that. Au contraire, she picked up the instrument about four years ago while brainstorming ideas for her creative writing senior thesis.

“I thought, ‘this is gonna be fun!’’ Ginsberg says of her foray into a previously un-explored world of string instrumentals. “I really wanted to write songs, because it’s an important media to explore.”

Since then, Ginsberg’s career has moved quite literally at lightning speed. She has put out one folk-y/rock-ish/pop-esque (can’t resist a good suffix every now and then) album every year since 2006 and recently signed with Park the Van Records.

For Ginsberg, everything is and always has been about the writing. “My music came about because of its lyric value,” she explains. Over time, Ginsberg has seen her lyrics evolve from “abstract poem collages” more perplexing than the Times’ Friday crossword puzzle to bodies of art that focus around “storytelling and making sense” (always a plus).

“There’s a difference between interpreting and wanting to understand a song versus not caring what it’s saying because it’s so inaccessible,” Ginsberg has learned. I instantly think of Steve Miller’s ode to the fictional “pompitous of love” and agree with Ginsberg’s hypothesis: just because musicians can get away with coining such perturbing lyrics doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

While time and experience certainly hone artistic skill, Ginsberg believes life changes have affected her work with equal importance. “Love can change you; being with or away from someone can change you…life always seems to get in the way,” she muses. “My new record was written during one period of time, making it a more cohesive body of work. It has allowed me to understand myself and know what I’m going for in my music,” she adds.

Though consumers don’t always consider albums artistic entireties, preferring to pick through them for the catchy singles with irresistible hooks, a record is really just like a novel or painting. Knowing that each song is sewn into a particular place on an album to create a specific auditory arrangement makes downloading singles on iTunes seem like a shame. You wouldn’t dare barge into Barnes and Noble and rip out Chapter 8 of The Grapes of Wrath, satisfied with just a little sip of Steinbeck’s literary cocktail when you should be getting drunk off the whole book.

Now, I am not above denying the blatant hypocrisy of that statement: as I type up this post/mini-rant, I am being musically accompanied by one of the two Radiohead songs in my iTunes library. Yes, just two.

“I do download songs – I fall prey to it too,” Ginsberg admits. “I like that music is so accessible, but I wish people still bought records. There’s so much excitement in playing a record all the way through, but that’s not how people want to digest music today.”

Ginsberg is sometimes amazed that there’s even a music business in the first place (an allusion to her self-proclaimed new age-y tendencies). Though she believes in some sort of payment for her lyrical labors (admitting that sometimes she “works harder than a business man”), monetary rewards aren’t necessarily what she needs. “I could be getting 1,000 kisses or a dozen roses…I just think musicians deserve some kind of compensation…it’s not even about the money.”

One could argue that half of the joy of creating and disseminating music is the knowledge that that you are communicating with so many people so quickly. There are days when a song can make me laugh, cry, dance, scream, and think all at once. Perhaps this kind of emotional A.D.D only occurs at “that time of month,” but I won’t let that undermine the power of song, and Ginsberg agrees.

“I’ve been so healed by certain records, and being able to do that for someone else, or for yourself, is an amazing feeling.”

Now excuse me while I steal my sister’s guitar and beg her to teach me to play (I already learned the order of the strings: EADGBE) – I want that feeling too!

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