Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Great Leon Redbone

The great Leon Redbone died today. He was even greater than you realize.

Leon Redbone was flawless. The fact that he was an Armenian refugee who entered the hemisphere at the late age of 16, yet managed to channel the essence of old-timey American music more beautifully and authentically than any other retro performer only magnifies his glimmer. I’m like Diogenes when it comes to insisting on genuineness in music (and other things) and Redbone was the realest of the real, even though his persona was the fakest of the fake.

He was flawless in his musical taste and performance, his singing and his strumming, but also in his witticisms and bon motts, many of which appear in this great profile which you absolutely must read, even if you've never heard of the guy. Every quote is a gem; every observation a pearl.

I apologize for my flatly superlative praise, but as with Mamma Grimaldi's lasagna, there's a level where there's not much to say.
The very best stuff has a shocking purity, a grace, an emptiness.
I think Redbone was at that high pure level, and remained there consistently throughout his long career. His output was so stripped down and unearthly relaxed that you might not notice your universe has been powerfully reframed - into a timeless space of elegance and intimacy. It's magic.
Pure water gently trickling. A soothing stream, at body temperature, scarcely vulgar enough to fill your gut or tickle your palate.
The following is a late Redbone performance on the "ALF" talk show, hosted by a puppet alien (the show lasted only seven episodes and is considered among the very worst things ever put on television). After performing one song solo, ALF, the obnoxious puppet character, insists on a duet, the very suggestion of which will leave you cringing. But dammit if Redbone doesn't make it music...and touching music, at that. Again: magic. Have a look:

The following are Redbone's two favorite recordings (as mentioned in the article linked above). Have a listen, and see if you don't come around to Redbone's it's-all-happening-now perspective. Both of these strongly evoke Redbone, who was more of a timeless wavelength than a man. Andy Kaufman, alas, is truly dead. But Leon Redbone? Never.

No accent. Not in his speech, nor his music, nor his taste. Never out of time or out of place in any respect; always the very essence of whatever he chose to evoke. Flawless!

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