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  • Daniel Messé

Spellbook: Teleportation

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

We're all feeling pretty cooped up right about now, but no worries – just put one of these amazing tunes and travel to your heart's content!

A Slow Hot Wind** by Henry Mancini: If you want to take a trip to the desert, you need only listen to this song. Though I should specify, this is a fancy sort of desert – maybe just outside of Palm Springs, circa 1961. Yes there will be a lizard sunning itself on the saguaro cactus, but there will also be an elegant woman in a white bathing suit and matching sarong, whose accent you cannot quite pin down. All this is conjured up when that spare, snakey marimba figure comes into contact with Johnny Hartman’s impossibly lush voice.

West Palm Beach* by Palace Music (aka Palace Brothers/Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy et al.): This song is able to fully transport me to a run-down seaside motel using just a stumbling rhythm section, an out-tune-guitar, a bleached-out Farfisa organ, and Will Oldham’s unsettling vocals. Every blistering note adds to the illusion. The performance may seem haphazard or even sloppy, but nothing is out-of-place here, or even accidental. The spell is cast and I am there on that dissolute beach; I can smell the damp towels and suntan lotion, hear the ice-maker humming next to the parking lot, feel the hangover pulsing behind my eyes. The song opens with “I can’t get this sand out of my shoes.” Such a deceptively straightforward first line. Anyone who has been to the beach can recognize the singer’s complaint. And yet, what better way to introduce a song about helplessness. I can’t get this song out of my head...

Lippy Kids by Elbow: Ok, this song/spell may be a bit more abstract than the others, but it’s ability to transport me is no less true. This hypnotic tone poem is all about the potential of youth, as seen from someone whose own youth is a distant memory. There is no bitterness here, only a sort of yearning eagerness to cheer the kids on to greatness. “Build a rocket, boys. Build a rocket, boys!” If I am ever feeling low, singing along to these lyrics is a powerful remedy. I suddenly find myself in a small city somewhere in the UK (think Manchester or Liverpool). It is one of those perfect evenings that come around in late summer/early fall. A group of teens are hanging out, smoking in front of a pub. Their young footsteps on the old cobblestone street are an echo of the song – or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, some young person grew up to write this song, urging on some other young person to go on and build their own “rocket”. Time recursively folding in on itself, calling all of us on (or back) to greatness.

* Specifically the version on Lost Blues and Other Songs.

** Specifically the Johnny Hartman version with Bob Hammer’s exquisite arrangement.

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