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Monday, April 16th, 2007

Jolie Holland: A Glass Half Empty Is Still Breakable

Words by Sean Moeller

Happiness is a turncoat. It’s as yella as a stained tooth and as crooked as a dog leg, liable to flop at the drop of a hat and become the other side of the coin. Unhappiness – that tails’ side of the aforementioned coin – could be described the same way, though there are many devout loyalists to it and not the former. Some fall madly in love with the way unhappiness makes them feel, all the while cursing the notion that they’ve fallen victim to the gloominess of another disappointment or whatever they’d like to call it at the end of the day. Unhappiness sticks with us, clinging to us like static and it perpetuates itself. People, sickly or refreshingly enough, can find themselves getting really into stories about heartbreak, movies about heartbreak, poems about heartbreak, television shows about heartbreak and other people who inevitably impose heartbreak as if it were their sentence to finish. It’s a drunk fest on the stuff and the hangover never dissuades anyone from looking it up again and again, much more so than the good times soon forgotten, remembered only as rarities with the greatest of disappearing powers. There’s something invigorating about loading up on all of that bittersweet bitter sweetness because no matter what direction it went, unhappiness always started with happiness. Texas-born Jolie Holland, from the sound of things, drops tears once for every four blinks. This isn’t bad, for it’s constructive. But don’t confuse constructiveness for remedy. Just being constructive with your unhappiness and all its possessions does not automatically mean that you’re getting anything done about its reemergence. Like cancerous tumors, you treat it – rending it from your insides in a cleansing rush – and then hope like hell that you got it all. Cancer’s tricky, but more ably tracked than unhappiness, which can just lurk and lurk, lagging behind to duck beneath a pile of digestible food to hide until the coast is clear and it can peek out and stir around again. Holland gravitates toward the glory of unhappiness, making it her own and turning it into bluesy, cinematic drama that could go on and on indefinitely with its grey self and never be any worse for wear, still shiny and sensitized. In the title track from her last record, Springtime Can Kill You, Holland sings, “Don’t you see we’re all hurt the same?” It’s her way of sharing that identifiable emptiness that comes with heartbreak/unhappiness. Were it socially acceptable, that line could be used as grounds for making an immediate connection with another human being in any situation, at any time. All you would have to do is go up to the other, the stranger and bluntly say, “Tell me about your hurts and I’ll tell you about mine.” It would be an instant icebreaker because no one would be excluded, no matter of their popularity, their wealth and power or their age. If you’re able to talk, you’re able to participate in the conversation that could last for days or weeks, possibly years. Fundamentally, you’d call what Holland does with her music as making the proverbial lemonade from all those lemons. It’s built around the catharsis that is sometimes talked about and made a big deal of in this songwriting process that so many do. A song about that hard night when that man or that woman blindsided you with the checkmate can do that – let you take it back and do what you will with the repercussions. She’ll say about the first song that she recorded here with us that she wrote it while crying and now, it doesn’t get the same reaction from her anymore, if only because she’s extremely well-versed in making her pain work for her. Even so, with the workable process of giving this pain value and conclusion, she stows some of the racked carcasses of those squeezed lemons in her refrigerator so she can pull them out and put them to her tongue again at certain times when she needs to pull her lips in and get stung by the original pain all over, just to remember what it was like. No matter how she feels about the songs once they’ve been on their own two legs for a time, they must emit the pangs again, for the details and nuances of them certainly lend themselves to instant recognition and warping right back into those socks and shoes for retell. It’s for the prevention and the sustainment that they’re like this. Sustainment is cruel mister and Holland’s attraction to him is nectar.

Read the interview here: href="" target="_blank">

and a recording session can be heard and downloaded at href="" target="_blank"> also.

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