Time for one thing: Shawn Colvin

A review of Shawn Colvin's CD 'A Few Small Repairs,' by Joyce Millman


Joyce Millman
July 22, 1997 11:00PM (UTC)

Being a parent teaches you how to distill your thoughts, cut to the
chase, make the most out of the few moments of uninterrupted head time you
get each day. This isn't a bad thing; in fact, it's pretty useful at work.
You can tell who the mothers are in a meeting room. They're the ones who
snap everybody back on track when the guys start talking about football and
stuff.

Some of this shrinkage in Me Time, however, has been a genuine drag. I
was prepared to lose things like sleep and late nights out with child-free
friends. But I had no idea that being a mother would cut into the time I'd
always set aside for two of my most favorite things, listening to music and
being mad at the world.

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I used to take my music loud and angry. I'd crank the Clash or the Sex
Pistols or early angry Elvis Costello or the first Pretenders album day and
night. I stayed out late, I lived and breathed punk and new wave,
preferably British, preferably late '70s to early '80s, if you must know. I
had all sorts of vaguely militaristic Clash regalia decorating my walls and
my person. Paradoxically, though, as angry as I liked my music, I am not
one of those people who has a talent for flamboyant expressions of anger.
I'm more of a stewer.

But now, I've gone topsy-turvy. The pressure, demands and clutter of
work-home-kid make me crave quiet. In those precious few minutes after work
and before school or camp lets out, the last thing I want to do is listen
to Johnny Rotten's demented yodeling. Speaking of demented yodeling,
there's this crashing, thrashing new all-girl band called Sleater-Kinney
that a lot of critics whose opinions I respect are just raving about. But
every time I try to listen to their CD "Call the Doctor," I feel one of
those burning-behind-the-eye headaches coming on. It's official -- I am not
cool anymore. Do you know when I do most of my music listening? When I'm
cooking dinner, on a little portable CD player. Because I never cook
anything that takes more than a half-hour, I seldom get all the way through
a CD in one sitting (actually, one standing, chopping, dicing and
stirring).

Maybe because my tolerance for loud angry music has shrunk, my own
expressions of anger have gotten clearer and to the point. I don't give
anybody the benefit of the doubt anymore. I'm not nice. If something
irritates me (and let's be clear about this, my anger is now more focused,
usually having to do with things that directly and specifically piss ME
off, as opposed to things that piss off Joe Strummer or Johnny Rotten), I
get right to the point. You can chart the progression of my anger through
the dominant record on my turntable/CD player. Then: "Kick over the
wall/Cause governments to fall/How can you refuse it?/Let fury have the
hour/Anger can be power/You know that you can use it" ("Clampdown," the
Clash). Now: "Get out of this house" ("Get Out of This House," Shawn
Colvin).

I heartily recommend Colvin's "A Few Small Repairs" (Columbia) for
anybody who likes their music soft and their anger unvarnished.
Journeywoman singer-songwriter Colvin has been putting out records for
eight years (and playing in clubs for a lot longer than that); "Repairs,"
which was released last fall, is her finest. There are raw nerves dangling
naked under Colvin's deceptively soothing guitar folk; her voice is lilting
and girlish but her lyrics are harsh and sardonic. Centered on a broken
marriage (her own) and a midlife crisis (also her own), "Repairs" is
populated by characters who can no longer bear sugar-coating or illusion.
It's a stock-taking record, filled with the settling of scores. If you're
in a foul mood, it'll sound just right, a tall drink of life with bitters
and a twist -- like the twist Colvin springs on us in the first track,
"Sunny Came Home," a mandolin-plinked revenge lullaby about a woman who
just snaps one day, and sits down in her kitchen "with a list of names/She
didn't believe in transcendence."

My favorite, though, is the sharp-rocking, harmonica-driven "Get Out of
This House," on which Colvin makes a clean sweep, both metaphorically and
literally, and you don't have to be going through a breakup to appreciate
the song's leave-me-alone-damn-it energy. "I spent 11 long years in a hot
house zone/I spent 23 more trying to get home/Well I never got home but I
did what I did/Now I've got myself this house and you can't come
in.
"

You might even want to turn this one up LOUD.

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Joyce Millman

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

MORE FROM Joyce Millman

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