Updated: Sep 16, 2020
I can’t remember the first time I heard the term "Personal Mythology" – maybe it was in an interview with Rickie Lee Jones – but it seemed like such a perfect way to describe those songwriters that are so unapologetically original – with their own recurring images, iconography, and characters – that they manage to create meaning out of the unlikeliest of details. I’ve written and spoken ad nauseam about my love for the sonic world-building of my musical heroes – from the urban street-scapes of Laura Nyro and Marvin Gaye, to the gin-soaked hotels of Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, to the rainy day Europe of Scott Walker – but I’ve never mentioned the following albums, and I’ve been returning to them a lot recently:
Hounds of Love – Kate Bush: I’m baffled (and in love with) this incredibly rich, off-kilter fantasy world she conjures up; where jet planes soar next to witches and Druids (and not the Spinal Tap sort of Druids either, but cool Druids – Druids you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with). In any case, it’s a world that is nothing if not fully imagined and completely her own. It’s also one of the few albums I love that is full of mostly synths and programmed-drum sounds (The Blue Nile’s Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats being the others that come to mind).
The Nightfly – Donald Fagan: Here we find ourselves in a late 50’s / early 60’s tract house bedroom, in the company of an adolescent Walter Mitty. The fantasies he spins out are not the most likely subjects for songs – Cold War bomb shelters, late-night talk-radio DJ’s, and (barely) escaping the Cuban revolution – but the spell these songs cast is undeniable. Maxine is a particularly favorite of mine; two kids trapped in the suburban sprawl, dreaming about running away to a more sophisticated life in NYC and beyond. Their (imagined) trip to Mexico gives us one of my favorite romantic lyrics ever: “You’ll be my Senorita in jeans and pearls…”
Happy Come Home – Victoria Williams: These wonder-filled, almost child-like songs seem more like a travelogue or an atlas than an album. Song by song, she goes about describing her peculiar journey down the “Main Road”, listing what she sees as she walks on, and who she meets along the way. A lot of credit also has to go to Van Dyke Parks’ primary-colored arrangements; they were one of my earliest inspirations for what ultimately became Rabbit Songs.