Defending Her Turf


Loretta Lynn shamelessly stoked the embers of her own celebrity when she told enthusiastic fans at Town Hall last week that before she returned to performing recently, she’d spent five years at home with her ailing husband. That surprised me not because of her notorious “thankless marriage” to Oliver Lynn, but because Loretta has
always worked. A mother at 14, Lynn skipped adolescence and went straight to parenthood, then the stage. A teenage fan of Kitty Wells, who first defended bad girls in 1952 with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” Loretta celebrated them eight years later with her own “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” That tune set her vocal style: scouting ahead of the instruments, she doesn’t just sing a song, she goes looking for it. Savoring the “n” in “done” against the roof of her mouth in the opening line, “Ever since you left I’ve done nothing but wrong,” she discovers the last three words as if they were the prize in her Cracker Jacks. Our liberation would not be far away from this moment: women became subjects instead of objects in country
music, largely through Lynn’s influence.

Loretta took a look at the gay and straight, graying crowd assembled at Town Hall and chucked her playlist after the second number. A consummate performer, she made us feel as if it was our idea that she play New York City for the first time in 15 years. “You paid for the tickets— I’ll sing whatever you want,” she ordered. We got “Fist City,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”— Loretta’s defenses of a woman’s right to sexual pleasure, birth control, and the connection between the two. There was something both quaint and surreal about Loretta puffing out her wedding-cake-white, floor-length gown to appear pregnant for the Shel Silverstein gem “One’s on the Way.” Her sense of humor saves the song from parody, as does her insider knowledge of the chronically unfinished business that is the mental state of young motherhood: she’d had four children (and two miscarriages) by the time she was 18.

With “The Pill,” Lynn wrote the last word on that subject. Even though many radio stations refused it airplay, Lynn never backed off from this raucous indictment. “You’ve set this chicken your last time/Cause now I’ve got the Pill.” I wondered if she ever knew how close we prochoice feminists, with our “Women Are Not Brood Mares” T-shirts, came to being alike. Thanks for reminding me, anyway. —Georgia Christgau

We Have Takeoff

Pan Sonic’s records shade silence with pale buzzes, or rupture it with pinprick clicks. As the noise from their mound of electronic tone generators gushed through Tramps’s speakers Saturday night, though, silence never had a chance. Cranked up to volumes at least as tangible as they were audible— they seemed to be aiming for the resonant frequency of the room— Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen’s orderly blurts and crackles of analog-synth noise came off like a beat-friendly jumbo jet. Theoretically, their focus on specific waveforms and overlapping patterns is very close to the driest academic electronic music, but the effect was of grandstanding rock and roll— audience members erupted into cheers at a particularly pure sine wave or an especially harsh bit of interference.

As Vainio and Väisänen bobbed their heads over the machines and occasionally gave the knobs a little body English, a guy with a video camera circled them, which suggested that something visually interesting was happening. It wasn’t— a movie screen showed a black rectangle on a white background being deformed by whatever mechanical coughs and hums were at the top of the mix, and that was it. The immaculately ridiculous new wave shirts on headliners Trans Am were much more fun to look at. Unfortunately, their headset Vocoder crapped out after a few songs from their walloping Kraftwerk­Gary Numan homage Futureworld, and they reverted to their grimmer but equally clinical instrumental power-trio mode, which was a bummer: 1984 always trumps 2112. But the switchover was made to the accompaniment of a hissing, ticking synth piece that sounded like Pan Sonic was haunting the stage’s machines, making the raw sludge of digital errors stand up and march. —Douglas Wolk

Different Drums

Along with the tulips and cherry blossoms, the drummers have returned to the west side of Prospect Park. Every Sunday through the fall, as many as 200 people will gather near the Oriental Pavilion: players of percussive instruments from throughout the African diaspora, dancing grannies and tots, griots and shouters calling and responding in various languages. Renovations this year to the Drummers’ Grove just down the road have forced the company to temporarily relocate; upon reaching their new spot, congregants pulled all available benches into a circle, consecrated the ground with cranberry juice and bottled water and set to drumming. Many are current or former pros, but anyone can play: for $8 Steve Belle will sell you a slingshot with a row of flattened bottle caps wired across the top.

“I’ve seen all kinds of drums, vibes, guitars, trombones, saxes, flutes, trumpets, even bassoons and French horns,” says Abdul Jami, who often plays sax with the drummers, and is a tailor during the week. Henry Byron, who owns the Fall Cafe in Carroll Gardens, brings a dun-dun, the bass drum that sets the beat. The hand drums and shakeres (gourds braided with beads or cowrie shells) work out a groove that may last for 20 minutes or longer. The party has an 8 p.m. curfew but has been known to run all night.

Longtime participant Ellsworth Ausby is planning a Father’s Day “tribute to the ancestors” and helped assemble an exhibition inside the Grand Army Plaza arch featuring drums from Nigeria and art by and about the drummers (the show runs through July 5). The circle began 30 years ago as the rehearsal space for Abiodun McCray and some friends. For many, the Sunday gathering is a spiritual event, but McCray, who repairs drums and teaches dance, says, “It’s a way of relieving tension from the week past and getting energized for the week ahead.”—Josh Goldfein

Archive Highlights