Eva Cassidy's America
Canberra, May 2002
I haven't been motivated to read or write much over the past two weeks. I suppose I needed a break from it all, just give my head a rest from it. I've enjoyed that liberated sensation of vacuousness, a clear head. But invariably I'm drawn back to the computer, to chow down another set of whimsical musings, or otherwise. Even though I've just downed half a bottle of wine! *burb*
Last Tuesday night I had an urge to simply lie down and pull out some Eva Cassidy CDs. Eva Cassidy's songs are always around me and yet I hadn't actually listened to the CDs themselves for quite a while. I suppose I'm falling into the mp3 pit that seems to be the happening place listening-wise these days. Eva Cassidy sounds perfect on CD, and I think CD suits her better than the hypothetic vinyl. Eva doesn't require the warm, chocolately analogue grooves such as would suit a Janis Joplin - the more metallic flavour of compact disc somehow suits Eva's vibe more.
That Tuesday I listened to about 2 or 3 CDs in a row. I think there was 'American Tune' and 'Imagine'. I pulled out her bio from the shelf, re-read it in sections, and gazed at her photos and painting portraits while the music came out gently through the speakers like waves. As I was reading about the period of her bodily decay and passing it dawned on me that it was the anniversary of her death, 13 years to the day, on 2 November 1996, age 33. Coincidence maybe, but there was definitely a natural yearning to listen to her that night.
I love Eva's music. I totally and absolutely love her style and approach. And I'm totally into her guitar playing too, and I love Chris Biondo's touch as producer and bassist particularly. I love the great musicians who played with her and gave to the tracks their realness and genuineness, away from the pressures of industry expectations. I love that which Eva represents; the America of suburbs, recording studios, local bars with music, excellent local musicians dressing casually and looking normal. She represents the America of galleries, bicycle tracks, trees and leaves and stark seasonal changes. The America of Alice Sebold's 'The Lovely bones', that in itself, is something of the fiction-novel equivalent to Eva Cassidy's music. She represents all that is good in the nature around her and the wonderful coastline. You hear all of this in Eva's music. There is no gaudiness or hype in it whatsoever. It is pure music, unadorned by extraneous pressure, appealing to people who love good honest lives, a sweet restaurant here, a tree-lined walkway to a friend's house there.
Eva encapsulated all that is wonderful about American music. She did it all - folk, jazz, blues, country, pop and more, making it entirely her own. And yet Eva transcended the genres to create something magical, a feeling beyond time and place, something truly naturale. Eva's music is as pure and as universal as can be. And there's no glitziness or dazzling hair displays or funky outfits on her album covers, either. As all but one of her albums were released posthumously ('Live at Blues Alley' 1996), they are mostly adorned with simple, sweet photos of Eva in nature somewhere.
I don't know the exact geography of where Eva was born or lived, but it appears she was born in a satellite town/city just outside of Washington DC. This is around the mid-East coast of the USA. I gather from her bio that it's all pleasantly livable and a little opaque, a little bit like Canberra by the sea. And one good reason why I love Eva's music so much, aside from all that I've mentioned, is that her music speaks of my geography too. I'm an east-coast person. In wintertime when you're at the coast and the sun is setting behind you, ominous shards of pink, grey, purple and blue colour the seascape sky as the day darkens rapidly. There is a quietly intense melancholy to this. I hear it in Eva's music and I hear it as I'm at the sea during the cooler months.
There are places around where I live that have that palpable Eva Cassidy "feel", meaning, that when I'm at these places I have Eva's songs pulsing through my head and I "feel" her music in me most vividly and vibrantly. The coastline south of Sydney, in particular, is indicative of this feel. I find that Cronulla Beach on a winter's night is the spirit of the music of Eva Cassidy, and as I'm at the shoreline leaning against the steel railings, with the waves lapping below me and the cold wind blowing into my face, songs like 'Wade in the Water' and 'Wayfaring Stranger' are coursing through the air through my psychic stereo. Drive further south, Wollongong. In winter, same feeling. Again, it's being in a similar latitude to where Eva lived, and on the east coast, perhaps, that this sensation is engaged and made most familiar to me.
I remember the first time I'd visited Cronulla Beach at night. It was cold and fresh and I was meandering around the walkway that separated Wanda & Cronulla beaches. It was lit by street lamps and high apartments on one side, and the moon streaming into the sea on the other side over the steel railings. I looked up at the apartments and considered the idea of what would be the perfect life. I had the vision of a perfect woman, and a vastness and "everythingness" that pertained to all that was around me - it was a magic moment. I became like "nothing" and I was at one with everything. Life sped up from that point on, it was definitely a shift in consciousness for me. That was 8 July 1996.
For a period of about 2-3 years back around 2004-5 I would go to a tennis club on the last Friday of every month for a music night. Often it would be the one event I'd be looking forward to most of all during the month. The club is up in the North Shore just as you approach the bridge leading into the Northern Beaches. The area was generally freshly aired and leafy, and the club itself had a pleasantly, neutral vibe. And that was the thing that appealed to me, a no pressure, good music environment, away from the hum and "sting" of the inner city music scene. I like that sense of being out of the way a little, where the vibe is pleasant and safe and neutral, and away from where it's trendy and happening. And that's the quality I love about Eva's music.
I first encountered Eva in a two-page spread in the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald back in 2001. I went out and bought 'Eva by Heart' and 'Live at Blues Alley' immediately, so drawn was I to what I read about her. I figured she was the female equivalent of Nick Drake, realising later that she was to be a lot than that to me.
I didn't love her music straight away. But there was an expanse of feeling, an openness, in this music that drew me in and immediately warranted a second listen. Within three years, I was hooked.
Eva Cassidy has been one of my greatest teachers. She's taught me, or has awoken in me at a deeper level, an appreciation of life, of the wonder of nature, and the bittersweet transience of it all. Her influence has made me a happier, more enlightened person, and for that I remain eternally grateful.