I am always enchanted by the magic of PJ Harvey, and have been increasingly impressed with her body of work over time. I have been listening to her since about 1992 or 93, and because I do play so much of her music in the background while I work, it's only natural I may post quite a bit about her in my art blog. I just find her so inspiring. So much so, that more than once she's crossed into my pieces. I did a series of portrait studies on her in 2005 which I was rather pleased with. My favourites were those I'd completed from her self-proclaimed "Joan Crawford on Acid" era. Such an insane visual stage persona going on there! One which she adopted for the theatrics of the 1995/96 tours. I actually couldn't bear to part with the piece shown here in this photo, and nor will I until I am offcially "over-it" which hasn't happened just yet.
I have always appreciated the haunting quality and dramatic power of this song ("Shame"). But when going beyond the vocal track on CD and viewing it live, it takes on a new dimension. I've seen this performed on tour live, and viewed many clips of it, but I find I am entranced by this UK tele show performance in particular. You can almost see the song in her eyes. (well what you can see of them through her veil of fringed bangs, anyway.) Her ability to touch base on such a painful and common human topic with such a sense of forlorn grace and detachment simply astounds me. Oh, and to get past the raw emotion of a piece and have the control and execution needed to sing well on stage is a feat in itself which I can attest to. But to do so in such a manner that is still so emotive and passionate! It shows not only her prowess as a singer, but compliments the great storytelling aspect of her writing and music so flawlessly. She starts off so direct. Expressing the desire of her character in the story. Haunted, raw, and torn but still cool and aloof..it's all a weensy bit reminiscent of the way Nico often delivered a piece, expressing a tender subject in such a memorable way without the sappiness-factor seeping in. (And I love Nico, so that's some pretty high praise.) However with PJ, admittedly there's more movement and action for the live delivery of a song.
"We were as green as grass"..how splendidly illustrated to begin her introduction of the character in the context of the song's overall story. Now that's some simple but effective word-smithing action indeed. And then, about a minute and a half in, after telling of the impact of this attempted love, the passionate delivery picks up and the parcel of regret really starts to open. Unveiling itself to the listener as she recalls her attempts, protests and failures of the whole sordid affair. Proclaiming "I'd jump for you into the fire..I'd jump for you into the flame.." uh, wow. Who doesn't want mutual love and devotion of that instense caliber? (Then again, is there any other kind of devotion permissible in my book?) The entire progression of the song is now approaching it's ending, as she does the bigger/better person in a situation gone afoul, she takes the blame. And after admonishing the other party, still goes forward with her life in a very proper English moral-to-the-story type of ending.
Excellent composition with excellent delivery. But for me, it's the hand gesture at the end that cinches it. Admittedly, she does clap to keep her time/beat and place throughout the song, but here It seems to complete the arc of the entire story so well. It's as if she's burned but still salvageable - and has learned her lessons well. And now, smarter and all the wiser for it, she wipes her hands clean of the whole ordeal and moves on. Always amazed by the honesty in her art, and the direct yet sublime delivery of her performances when they attain this level of polish.
I cite her as a comfort, inspiration, motivator, and muse quite often, and this is something that should always be celebrated and given thanks for in life. Whether it's written from her own true or personal experience or not? Who can say? (we'll never know with the ever-coy and mysterious PJ) It's just when (and/or if in this case) another human dispenses of their experiences or gifts so honestly and selflessly, and then makes the conscious effort to share them with the world via their Art? It truly moves mountains in me. In my opinion, it almost raises them to a higher level of consciousness among mere mortals for being brave and courageous enough to bear their soul.
Cheers to the Peej and enjoy.