susan anway: I’m presently listening to the wayward bus/distant plastic trees cd for the 1000th time – give or take a hundred. it’s the first magnetic fields collection that I fell in love with, and the record I’ve shared the most with close friends and passersby.
(back in the day, I think I bought a handful and gave them away in an effort to impress its brilliance upon everyone I could.) susan anway’s voice was a huge reason why.
like many fans, my introduction to the band probably came via the “100,000 fireflies” single. not long before – or after – I saw the ramshackle orchestra that was the magnetic fields live band at the time, with stephin singing. I remember really enjoying them, well enough to buy the cd when it became available and was completely blown away by the songs, the instrumentation, but most of all – feeling deeply moved by susan’s voice. she had the perfect mix of sweetness and world-weariness – so well-suited to the diversity of songs. it would be impossible for me to pick a favorite vocal performance from this record – all of it: the mournful appalachian ballads (“tar heel boy”), the synthetic disco pop (“tokyo a’ go-go”)…resonates equally. there’s magic in the songwriting and recording for sure – but for someone i’ve never met, the impression she left on me is deep and long-lasting.
michael nesmith was the singer of my favorite monkees songs (“don’t call on me” & “what am i doing hangin’ round”) – but I never heard those songs when I was young. the song of his I knew and loved best for years and years was his 1970 single “joanne.” I think mainly because I’ve always loved melancholic & melodramatic songs and singers – that song affected young me as much as anything by roy orbison. I don’t remember exactly how i got there – but at some point I discovered his 1972 album, archly titled and the hits just keep on coming. life is full of little sonic discoveries that leave you wondering how you had not heard a thing before now? from the haunting opening chords of “tomorrow & me” to the stomping closer “roll with the flow” – it’s a packed record in every way except for the instrumentation, featuring just michael and pedal steel player red rhodes. a record full of deep observations and seemingly simple songs that in a fairer world, would be given equal reverence to gene clark, or gram parsons’ best work.
Read our 2011 interview with Susan Anway, which was only published after her death in September here.
Read Theresa Kereakes’ tribute to Mike Nesmith here.