He recently gave an interview for “Dinner Party Download” (an ok podcast, interesting tidbits, but very hyperactive—10 segments in like 25 minutes). His dinner party playlist included Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, and Mavis Staples.
Or not really, anyway. It may be about a lover, but it could easily be a friend. Regardless, she misses that person, feels loss, and hopes to see that person again. Perhaps the key to the song is noting that its title is “Jesus Wept.”
And that it’s followed by "Far Celestial Shore," a joyous anticipation of heaven, then "What Are They Doing There Now?" where Mavis wonders what her friends who have passed on are doing in heaven. Their “hearts were burdened with care,” their bodies full of disease, they were “poor and often despised.” And now they are in a place where “peace abounds like a river.”
So then. When did Jesus weep? When his friend Lazarus died. And even though Jesus had the power to bring his friend back—and shortly would do so—the sting of death struck him. Similarly, Mavis knows her friends are in heaven with Jesus, and she will be too one day, but the pain remains.
As is the whole album. I’ve posted the closer, where she covers Wilco (again, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy produced this and her last album). The Wilco version is gorgeous in its own right, but I’m amazed at how tinny and insubstantial it now sounds to me in comparison. There’s nothing trivial in Mavis.
Favorite Wailing Guitar Moment: “Myriad Harbor” New Pornographers
Right at 1:38. This was a really hard prompt! Deciding which facet of “wailing” on which to focus took 2 months. Not sure why this one emerged as the favorite. It’s not painstakingly difficult to play or complex in structure…
Sorry about this video. Pretty sure Dan Bejar did the whole thing himself.
I ran into the Staples Singers while looking for some music for our study of the Civil Rights Movement, which reminded me that Mavis released a second album with Jeff Tweedy as producer that I hadn’t heard. It’s called One True Vine, and it’s pretty wonderful—maybe not as memorable or lasting as You Are Not Alone, but still a beautiful little album.