Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 37 - Jesus Was A Crossmaker

I received an email the other day whose subject line teased "Grizzlybear24 has shared a song with you on Grooveshark!" Well, it was my friend Michael linking me to a recent cover of a decades old song by Judee Sill, "Jesus Was A Cross Maker". The cover was by the Swedish singer Frida Hyvonen and it's a bruised and battered song of trying to hold on to a tempestuous and doomed relationship that is melting away.

"Blinding me his song remains reminding me
he's a bandit and a heartbreaker
Oh but Jesus was a crossmaker"

Judee Sill was a troubled (armed robbery, drug addiction, prostitution) but touched-by-greatness songwriter whose self-titled debut album was the first release on David Geffen's Asylum label 40 years ago. And a few years ago my friend Pat gave me a copy of that debut, which 35 years later didn't sound dated one bit and seemed to be lost in some myth-busting Bermuda triangle whose clutches had eluded contemporaries like Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Carole King.

But what really got me thinking is the way songs and people influence each other and how the truly wonderful songs seem to seep deep into our musical fabric and resurface from time to time. Last year Judee Sill was feted with a tribute album, Crayon Angel: A Tribute to The Music of Judee Sill, which featured Hyvonen's cover. The Fleet Foxes played her "Crayon Angel" nightly to rapturous audiences on their summer 2008 tour. And now two friends (decades apart chronologically) recommend the same obscure song.

And, for you Laurel Canyon fetishists, Graham Nash produced the original "Jesus Was A Cross Maker", written about his friend JD Souther and covered later by the Nash-less Hollies, then also covered by Warren Zevon, whose self-lacerating version was the high point of 1985's Mutineer. And listen below to Zevon's stunning (definitive?) take on his friend Souther's "Simple Man, Simple Dreams".

Here's what Judee Sill had to say about this song a few days after it's release, and although he's given a shout out in the title, it's got nothing to do with Jesus:
"I wanted to write a song about this principle - the lower down you go to gain your momentum from, the higher up it will propel you. I couldn't think of a way to say that poetically, and I happened to stumble across this real obscure theological fact, and that is that Jesus was a cross maker. That really got me and when I heard that I knew I had to write a song about it. At the same time I was having a real unhappy romance with this guy who was a bandit and a heart breaker, so one morning I woke up and realized that he's a bandit and a heart breaker rhymes with but Jesus is a cross maker, and I knew that even that wretched bastard was not beyond redemption."

Not exactly "Poker Face", is it?

Judee Sill - "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" (from Judee Sill)
Judee Sill - "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" (Live on BBC)
Frida Hyvonen - "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" (from Crayon Angel: A Tribute to The Music of Judee Sill)
Warren Zevon - "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" (from Mutineer)
Warren Zevon - "Simple Man, Simple Dreams" (WMMS - Cleveland 1976)

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