Poetry Spoken and Sung

Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time was a 1968 album of poetry spoken and sung by Joan Baez.

Artwork by Robert Peak. Design by Jules Halfant

 

TRACK LISTING

Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)
2.”I Saw the Vision of Armies” (Walt Whitman)
3.”Minister of War” (Arthur Waley)
4.”Song In the Blood” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti/Jacques Prévert)
5.”Casida of the Lament” (J.L. Gili/Federico García Lorca)
6.”Of the Dark Past” (James Joyce)
7.”London” (William Blake)
8.”In Guernica” (Norman Rosten)
9.”Who Murdered the Minutes” (Henry Treece)
10.”Oh, Little Child” (Henry Treece)
11.”No Man Is an Island” (John Donne)
12.”Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” (James Joyce)
13.”All the Pretty Little Horses” (traditional)
14.”Childhood III” (Arthur Rimbaud/Louis Varese)
15.”The Magic Wood” (Henry Treece)
16.”Poems from the Japanese” (Kenneth Rexroth)
17.”Colours” (P. Levi, R. Milner-Gulland, Yevgeny Yevtushenko)
18.”All in green went my love riding” (E. E. Cummings)
19.”Gacela of the Dark Death” (Federico García Lorca/Stephen Spender)
20.”The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” (Wilfred Owen)
21.”Evil” (N. Cameron/Arthur Rimbaud)
22.”Epitaph for a Poet” (Countee Cullen)
23.”Mystic Numbers- 36″
24.”When The Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven” (James Joyce)
25.”The Angel” (William Blake)
26.”Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)

 

Joan Baez‘s most unusual album, Baptism is of a piece with the “concept” albums of the late ’60s, but more ambitious than most and different from all of them. Baez by this time was immersed in various causes, concerning the Vietnam War, the human condition, and the general state of the world, and it seemed as though every note of music that she sang was treated as important — sometimes in a negative way by her opponents; additionally, popular music was changing rapidly, and even rock groups that had seldom worried in their music about too much beyond the singer’s next sexual conquest were getting serious. Baptism was Baez getting more serious than she already was, right down to the settings of her music, and redirecting her talent from folk song to art song, complete with orchestral accompaniment. Naturally, her idea of a concept album would differ from that of, say, Frank Sinatra or The Beatles. Baptism was a body of poetry selected, edited, and read and sung by Baez, and set to music by Peter Schickele (better known for his comical musical “discoveries” associated with “P.D.Q. Bach,” but also a serious musician and composer). In 1968, amid the strife spreading across the world, the album had a built-in urgency that made it work as a mixture of art and message — today, it seems like a precious and overly self-absorbed period piece.

A clip of Whitman’s poem spoken by Joan Baez can be listened on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

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Poetic Seduction

Vespertine (2011)

 
 

Björk‘s artistic incarnations seem very intentional, well thought out. Vespertine, her fifth studio album was released on August 27, 2001. The initial title for the album was Domestika. A song titled Domestica (originally titled Lost Keys) was included as a B-side on the Pagan Poetry single. Björk has stated that she decided to call the album Vespertine instead of Domestika because the new title dealt with the prayer aspect of the album, which she wanted to note, while she felt that calling the album Domestika would have been “too much”, because Björk felt that the songs on the album were already “domestic” enough. She felt the need to call the album after another aspect of itself. The word Vespertine also relates to nighttime, for example things that come out at night, and the title was also partly inspired by that.

Although one of Vespertine’s themes is the night time, the frontal artwork designed by studio M/M Paris and photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin highlights a sunny time. It might be because the song, Sun in my Mouth, was a single from that album. Björk adapted the lyrics of Sun in My Mouth from the poem I Will Wade Out by E. E. Cummings. The word “sea-girls” is changed to “seagulls”, and the last few lines of the poem are omitted.

The recipe for success was ready to be mixed: ornithology, poetry and Greek mythology. Björk used metaphors taken from nature to describe Vespertine: “is little insects rising from the ashes.”

The ancient Greeks thought that ποίησις (poiesis), with a broad meaning of a “making”, was also the “joint of everything”, the amalgamating element of the world. So, maybe that was the ideal concept for Björk.

On the cover of Vespertine she can be seen wearing the swan dress designed by Marjan Pejoski that caused a stir at the 2001 Academy Awards.

Марјан Пејоски (Маrjan Pejoski) is a Macedonian fashion designer who lives and works in Great Britain. That infamous swan dress put him on fashion’s map. Some people thought Alexander McQueen was the author of that dress due to his previous collaborations with Björk.

 
 

Promotional pictures by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

 
 

Björk in Oscar 2001 red carpet

 
 

Still from Pagan Poetry (Nick Knight, 2001) music video. She’s wearing a dress designed by Alexander McQueen. The music video “is about a woman preparing herself for marriage and for her lover”, Knight said.

 
 

Clifton Webb, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Allen

 
 

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) Promotional pictures

 
 

Pejoski’s swan dress has a precedent. In 1935 Marlene Dietrich attended a Halloween party hosted by South African actor Basil Rathbone and his wife Ouida Bergère. It was a party to entertain movie stars. The Person You Admire The Most was the theme. Dietrich chose Leda, the mytological figure seduced by Zeus, and asked Travis Banton, a Paramount iconic costume designer, to make her dress. Elizabeth Allen was going to accompany Dietrich. Allen’s choice was out of her reach. She wore an androgynous outfit, actually a copycat from Morocco’s costumes. And Clifton Webb was disguised as Fu Manchú.