It was only a short while ago that I reviewed Kimya Dawson's Hidden Vagenda CD on these pages, and yet here I am reviewing another, more recent release from her, Remember That I Love You. What, you might wonder, can he have to say about her music that he didn't just say, like, a month ago? Well, you know, there have been times that I've reviewed three or more books by the same author in the space of a week, so why not a second disc by the same musician within a month or two?
The real truth of the matter is that I liked the first CD I listened to so much that I wanted to hear more. So I contacted the good people at K Records, who distribute her music, and asked for a review copy of Remember That I Love You. What had impressed me the most about the earlier release, Hidden Vagenda was not only the intelligence of Ms. Dawson's lyrics, but how she performed her songs.
Although her breathless, nearly stream of conscience, mode of delivery is not what most of us are accustomed to when it comes to pop music, I found it to be one of the things that appealed to me most about her music. Instead of the normal dynamic of the passive audience being spoon fed by a singer, listening to Kimya's music was like waiting your turn in a conversation. I couldn't help but notice that while I was listening to her sing, I was thinking of things that I would like to say to continue the conversation she had started.
Most issue oriented singers have a tendency to create slogans instead of dialogue, and end up depicting a world that is black and white. The only thing that separates them from those they are singing about is what they designate as "good" and "evil." It's that sort of intransigency that gets humans in all sorts of trouble. Everybody is so damn sure that they are right and the other guy is wrong that they don't even take the time to listen to what somebody else has to say any more. How do people expect to get through to those with opposing views if they are constantly putting their backs up by attacking them?
Having an opinion on a subject is a good thing, and to believe passionately in something is not a bad thing either. To think that because somebody holds to a different opinion somehow makes them lesser than you, or even "bad," precludes ever being able to have a conversation with them or finding the common ground we need in order to move beyond the current state of the world. The fact that when you listen to one of Kimya Dawson's songs you feel like you're part of a conversation and not being lectured at may not seem like such a big deal, but it reflects an attitude that we all could stand to emulate.
While Kimya Dawson makes no bones about having a particular world view and having strong opinions on various issues you never once get the impression that she believes herself to be the one with "the answer." Her songs encourage listeners to think about whatever she is singing about, instead of merely proselytizing. Even though the majority of her audience is probably all ready in agreement with her opinions, what's important is that she doesn't appear to allow that to affect her approach to her song writing. It would be easy for her to write simple polemics that the crowd can call out its approval to, but she doesn't chose to go that route.
When I sat down to listen to Remember That I Love You I knew that I wouldn't be able to absorb all the material on the first or even second listen. It's not that her songs are difficult to understand; they just make you think to the extent you don't notice the next song – or even two – has gone by while you were still ruminating on the earlier one. To expect anything else would be silly though; could you have twelve different conversations in less then an hour?
Kimya Dawson has this wonderful ability to put things into a perspective that you might not have considered before. Instead of belabouring a message, she takes you into a situation or circumstances and lets you view the world from there. Her song, "12/26" about the tsunami that devastated parts of South East Asia in 2005 is a great example of this.
On December 26, 2005 an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean off shore of South East Asia, caused a massive tidal wave to batter shore lines from the South East tip of India to Indonesia and beyond. Villages and cities were swallowed by the ocean; on the island of Sumatra the province of Aceh was completely obliterated and the majority of its population killed. Horrible stories of families helplessly watching loved ones being washed away in front of their eyes were common place in the days after the storm, and Kimya has taken a situation like that as her means of bringing us into the story:
"Everything she's ever known is gone, gone, gone/Everyone she's ever loved is gone, gone, gone/The only reason she's alive is she gabbed a palm frond and held on, held on…We'd have 12/26 tattooed across our foreheads if something this atrocious happened on our coast "12/26" Kimya Dawson Remember That I Love You"
Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless and their means of making a living lost on top of the thousands of lives lost. Yet to us in North America 12/26 is meaningless while 9/11 is an icon the world over. How many memorial services were held by heads of state for the people who died because of the tsunami? Kimya asks her listener to try and imagine how you would feel if you were the one who survived by hanging on to a palm frond while your children, husband and parents drowned in front of you?
What would you think of a country that would expect everyone else to remember about its dead, but whose government was slow in sending aid after your country was almost wiped off the map by a natural disaster? Kimya doesn't lecture you or try to make you feel guilty – she tries to get you to look at events from outside of yourself and outside of our narrow world view.
Kimya Dawson's Remember That I Love You confirms my opinion that she is one of today's most gifted songwriters. Her songs have the amazing ability to let the listener see the world through the eyes of whoever the song is about. Not only does that make them powerful works of art, but it also makes them political songs that aren't political, but a pleasure to listen to. If you've not listened to Kimya Dawson yet, you're missing out on some of the best and most human music going.