Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kat's Korner: Holly Near, Go Away

Kat: The singer-songwriter has been among the hardest hit in the last four years.  No, not by the economy, by the reality.  Carole King, for example, better hide behind her forty and fifty year old hits of yesteryear because audiences are becoming increasingly . . . anxious about her inability to say a word that's pertinent to today.   March 4th, Carole was on The Diane Rehm Show trying to make more bucks off nostalgia with her bad book (I agree with Ava and C.I., you don't get to skirt the issue of violence against women when you're Carole King who co-wrote "He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss" back in 1962).  But a funny thing happened.  People started writing on Diane's message boards asking where our 'peace' queen Carole had been during the whole Iraq War.

There was huckster Carole, desperate to make a buck as usual, with that badly written book revealing nothing other than she's the fat chick that didn't get James Taylor on prom night (or any other).  Anything for a buck Carole thought she could just breeze through, treating life like another day on QVC.  But turns out there's a bill due and the people wanting to collect are on the other side.

It's a message Holly Near should have considered because she falls in a special niche of singer-songwriters.  Weird ones who openly mock God (see her reworking of "Hattie and Mattie" live which usually includes a dig at Jesus) except when appearing before predominately African-American audiences and yacking about the value of the Civil Rights.  Yeah, that's her.  Fake and phoney with African-American audiences and then, with her White, Whole Foods audience, she's got plenty of time -- in remarks and lyrics -- to mock Jesus.  If that's how she feels, why doesn't she take it to one of the Black churches she performs at?  Oh, that's right, they'd boo her off the stage.

holly near

Judging by Peace Becomes You, everyone should start booing.  That's Holly's new album. It's a double album because Holly's that out of touch with reality.  Only someone so far up Barack Obama's ass could think this is an economy that can support a double album priced at $26.97 on CD -- and, yes, most of Holly's audience, the youngest of which are usually in their sixties, are still buying CDs.

Holly hasn't had a hit in . . .  Well, ever.  But she was a presence in the baby boom's formative early-adult years.  She was on Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland's FTA tour, for example.  And she was "clerk" on an episode of The Mod Squad, a student on an episode of Room 222, Laurie's friend and Keith's rival on an episode of The Partridge Family and, on All In The Family, she played pregnant Mona who arrived at Archie and Edith's house for one scene to announce she had "huge breakfast this morning" at her house and stopped on the way to the Bunkers for "a sandwich and a malt" and she then proceeds to irritate Archie as she eats the flap jacks and link sausage.

Holly then moved over into lesbianism as a lifestyle.  For those who are confused, I'm referring to straight people who find same-sex couplings to be a marketing strategy.  Before righteous 'lesbian' Ani DiFranco there was Holly Near.  For almost 20 years now, Holly's been involved with a man, with the same man, but don't you dare call her straight or bi-sexual.  

"Lesbian" has been a very good marketing tool for her.  It allowed a bit performer who had a small slice of fame to sell albums and tour constantly via the Womyn festival circuit -- one Holly practically invented all by herself.

The fact that she's hitless after all these decades in music may imply that she's talentless.  I'm not trying to suggest that.  In 2007, she recorded a classic album, the finest thing (even now) she's ever recorded called Show Up.  She followed that with the sort of embarrassing statement we've learned to expect from faux activists.  Womanist Holly teamed with emma's revolution to celebrate womyn's music and what better way for a group of women to celebrate women than by . . . recording the songs of men.  In real time, the biggest problem was with distribution (taking money was no problem, but you getting what you paid for was).  Another note in my review was about who are these women to celebrate Pete Seeger and ignore Laura Nyro.  Three women claiming to be Womnyst and they can't note Laura?  Would they even be here today without Laura Nyro?  Hell no.

But that's fakes for you.  Three women pretending their Womynist (when spelled with a "Y" they're advertising same-sex attraction, just F-to the Y of I) and promoting the work of men.

And that's still the case today.   She's got 29 tracks, a lot of them covers, where's the tribute to women?

Apparently Womynist means "I already gave in the bedroom."

If you're really generous, you could say that re-recording "Dream A Little Dream Of You" is a tribute to Cass Elliot who had a hit with the Mamas and the Papas on this track.  (Yes, with the Mamas and the Papas.  The song that hit the charts is from the group's 1968 album The Papas &  The Mamas.  Cass has a version -- with electronic noise, rain and thunder -- on her first album.  It's not the version that charted or that you know from the radio.)  Cass didn't write the song, Wilbur Schwandt, Fabian Andre and Gus Kahn did.  But most importantly, if you were trying to pay tribute to Cass why would you offer such a crappy cover?

Hits have escaped Holly because she does not have a natural singing voice.  She never has -- even in the earliest days.  But if the arrangements for the songs are in the right key and provide brightness the basic flatness of her voice -- she's someone who really needs to learn to breathe on the note -- can be overcome.  Or could be.  That's the biggest shock from the songs this go round.

I don't think even Dylan's come off as nasal -- in the studio -- as Holly does on her cha-cha-cha version of "Dream A Little Dream of Me."

I have no idea who "99 Miles From LA" is supposed to be a tribute to but that tired song's been recorded already by everyone including Johnny Mathis and Julio Iglesias.

When she does remember the limitations of her singing, we end up with "There's a Meeting Here Tonight" which is actually in her key and has a chorus of other voices to support her.  But you're left dumbfounded that so much effort has gone into a cover song whose message -- remember she's a message singer --is "We'd stay in school but it's too much to pay, too much to pay" -- you know this is coming, right? -- "too much to pay."

Then there's her cover of "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face."  She manages to get the title notes in a reasonable pitch but then comes some really ugly noise from her nose and throat and she quickly begins talking the song which is probably supposed to sound dramatic but just reminds me of the Will & Grace episode where Karen (Megan Mullally) loses Rosario in a pool game with Beverly Leslie and ends up talking the lyrics of this Perry Como hit.

Dak-Ho loves the cover of the album which features Holly, as he says, "Swaddled in denim, in an open leg squat looking like she just unloaded her tractor trailer and is about to grab a coffee before heading back out on the open road. She's a Bounty Paper Towels advertisement waiting to be filmed."  CD buyers can enjoy that cover as well.  But no notes inside.

Holly says she's being kind to the environment.  Of course, it's also true that she's put this album out herself and by skimping on things like credits and lyrics, by not including that booklet, she's able to pocket a little more change with each album sale.

If it seems like I'm doubting Holly's sincerity, I am.  See, I made a point to catch her in concert twice this month to see if she was as big a fake as she was coming off on the album?

The answer?

Even more so.

It's bad enough to include "Yes we can" in a song in 2013, it's even worse when, in another song "In The Shadow Of War," you pretend you give a damn about issues like war and Guantanamo.  But to stand on stage and talk about how great it is that Barack is president?

Oh, honey, your price tag is showing.

Guantanamo, as anyone remembers, was Barack's first broken promise and remains open.  The Drone War is probably the key component of his foreign affairs policy.  Innocent children are dying but it's okay with Holly Near because those are foreign children.  Now if they were "black or brown" in America, she'd give them a shout out on this album (as she does) long enough to decry the prison-industrial-complex but not long enough to note the number incarcerated has steadily risen under Barack.

As I explained at the top, it's not a good time to be a singer-songwriter.  The genre is supposed to be about honesty and exploration.  So if you're a political singer-songwriter and you're whoring for the man who's killing so many in The Drone War, if you're promoting the man who's got telecoms illegally spying on Americans, if you're that useless you may not even be able to generate a few bucks on the nostalgia circuit -- as Joan Baez found out the hard way in 2008, whoring doesn't sell albums to political  activists.

Joan's been wrongly confused with Vanessa Redgrave by Americans who don't know better.  Vanessa, not Joan, sticks to her political convictions regardless.  Politicians and parties don't matter to Vanessa.  Joan promoted herself as a Peace Queen and since, for most of her career, so few have bothered to listen to the music, the label stuck even though it wasn't all that true.  Joan proved it in 2008 when she came out to whore for Barack.  And she just knew all this love from Democratic websites was going to lead her to the big time.  This is the same woman who was petty and rude and spiteful about Tina Turner's 1984 comeback not understanding why she couldn't have the same comeback (for one thing, Joan, you've never been sexy, even in your virginal Madonna days).  This is the woman who publicly pawed a shocked Tina's breasts and tried to steal Tina's manager all in the same night after the Live-Aid concert ended.  This is the woman who was using the term "Negro" to refer to African-Americans in 2005 on Laura Flanders' Air America radio show.  Despite all of this and so much more (including her father's experiments), she just knew 2008 was going to be her big moment.  She even charted higher than ever before in the last four decades (128 on Billboard) which was good if it were 1997 but in these days of 20,000 units moved getting you practically into the top 20, 128 was a laugh.  Worse was to come, the album had no legs and quickly crashed.  It was such a bomb that she got dropped by the small, independent label in the UK (Proper-Records).

If Joan had been Vanessa Redgrave, she would have been calling out Barack and showing young America what activism was all about. She'd be holding him accountable for The Drone War, for his failure to create FDR-type projects to put people back to work and so much more.  But she's not Vanessa so she remains silent in objection to the horrors of innocents killed by drones.

Holly did as well.  It's why she's a joke.  Well, that and playing the "fat princess" in a exploitation film at the start of her acting career. (Being overweight seems to have been the theme of her acting career.)   Peace Becomes You, Holly lies, failing to grasp that the US government is involved in more wars than ever, has expanded its military presence in African more than ever in the last four years

I saw Holly twice this month.  At one show, a third of the audience left before Holly wound down.  At another, I was in the ladies' room after, listening to five women rag on how fake Holly had become and pick apart her praise for Barack.  Those women won't be coming back to see Holly again.  They knew her entire song catalog and they thought they knew her.   They wrongly believed she stood for something.  The most shocking thing about the tour and Peace Becomes You is learning, as one of the bathroom women put it, "just how hollow Holly Near is."