19 June 2023

19 June 2023 - Throwing Muses - Fish

This may very well be one of the strangest songs we've ever posted on here.

In 1987, influential British label 4AD Records released a compilation album containing a bunch of songs their artists had recorded.   That alsum was called Lonely Is An Eyesore, and it is a classic.  The vision of label head Ivo Watts-Russell, it was intended to introduce the small label to the masses, and included a videocassette version of the album, with a music video to accompany each song.  Put a pin in that, because it's important later.

4AD had featured mostly British and European artists (before you go there, yes, Dead Can Dance was Australian) but had not signed an American band until soon before this compilation was released.  In 1986, they signed a four-piece minimalist pop-rock band from Newport, Rhode Island and broke that streak.  

Let's rewind now, to 1985.   Throwing Muses had released a cassette called The Doghouse Cassette, with a lot of their early songs, many of which the band ended up rerecording for a number of albums for years to come.  One of the songs on this album was called "Fish", and it was a surreal masterpiece.   As the story goes, it quickly became Ivo Watts-Russell's favorite song, and he couldn't get enough of the song.... so much so, that he made a lyric from the song the title of his prized cornerstone of a compilation album.

So, for its inclusion on Lonely Is An Eyesore, a video for this song was recorded in a loft in Boston and also at the New England Aquarium (that's where the fish came from).  It shows the song and band in all its glory: David Narcizo with his military drumming (note the lack of cymbals), Leslie Langston's heavier-than-expected bassline, Tanya Donelly's ringing guitar and perfect harmonies that almost don't sound like harmonies.....

I can't just put Kristin Hersh in a list.  Hersh's haunting vocals weave through the verses paint a vivid picture of vulnerability and introspection. The lyrics are poetic and enigmatic, to say the least.  Her (and Donelly's) guitar to open the song and throughout are both delicate and relentless, and are a lot more complex than they sound. The most noteworthy thing about this completely surreal song is that she wrote the whole thing. It all started off with a hand-made Jesus on a crucifix on the wall of an apartment Hersh crashed in.  Apparently, ir looked like a fish to her.

That speaks directly to her unparallel songwriting genius. Who else could turn I remember this quote someone once wrote about her.
"Kristin wrote the song...  She is one of the most overlooked songwriters of her generation (which also happens to be my generation)". - Me, 4 March 2012
Is it hard to pick a favorite song by my favorite band? Absolutely it is.  This song floats to the top - for all the reasons I've mentioned and so much more.   It is a song that encapsulates the band - the minimalist yet technically tricky style, the surreal lyrics open to broad intrepretation, the award-winning video.  

As I've said before, Throwing Muses were the first band I saw live, in 1989, and this song was absolutely on their setlist.  I saw them in Hartford, indoors, in September, and not at a summer outdoor music festival in Glastonbury, but the song and performance were the same.  

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