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I Love Me

Joseph Arthur says narcissism is the only way to make real art

JA: Oh, really? Could you read the whole thing to me? Do you mind?

HP: Uuhhh, sure, I guess.

(I found it at www.stylusmagazine.com/ review.php?ID=2672 and did so. I've read reviews to other bands before, but never at their own request. And the strangeness of both this review and this musician makes this the most surreal interview experience I've had outside of Aaron Neville's angelic voice reading me an anal-rape passage out of a prison diary a friend of his had written.)

The King of Lonely Midnights: Joseph Arthur's music 
will always make you feel like you're in the dark.
The King of Lonely Midnights: Joseph Arthur's music will always make you feel like you're in the dark.

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Friday, March 25. Polly Paulusma opens.
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HP: (Reading review) Some artists just have music in their soul. David Bowie doesn't seem to struggle with his albums. The man just has to sing lyrics and put some music behind it, he'll make it magic with the performance. Elvis Costello can churn out a classic song on command; while Bjork can find music in just about anything you give her. For these people it looks and feels effortless.

Others don't or, more accurately, can't. Ryan Adams comes to mind. Oasis is another obvious choice. Conor Oberst could fit into this category, as could Interpol, but they still have a chance to get out.

JA: Wow, she just dissed all the current people or whatever. That's wild shit.

HP: Yeah. (Continuing to read) Joseph Arthur lies somewhere in between these two talent-extremes and he could go in either direction.

JA: Ouch! (Laughs uproariously.) Okay…

HP: When an artist wants desperately to be legendary, it becomes obvious in his product.

JA: (Snort)

HP: For whatever reason, Joseph Arthur never appealed to me. Every time I heard his name or saw his picture, I would immediately think of Vincent Gallo. When I listened to his music, I could picture him singing into the microphone while wearing an old, tiny Yes T-shirt and a leopard print Speedo. Then there was his-

JA: That's funny, man, I'm wearing a fucking old, tight Yes T-shirt right now.

HP: Really?

JA:I swear to God I am. My friend in L.A. gave it to me. How fuckin' nuts is that? That is nuts. That's nuts 'cause I just got this T-shirt too. But why is wearing a Yes T-shirt bad? Why does that nail my character for some reason?

HP: (Obsequiously) I have no idea.

JA: Go ahead.

HP: Then there was his artwork. His albums are decorated with self-composed drawings of enigmatic human figures and heads. They look like a combination of cave drawing and graffiti. Radiohead albums never looked this self-indulgent.

JA: (Chuckles bitterly.) Maa-aan.

(I read the rest of the review uninterrupted. It goes on to say how he won her over. The more I listened, the more the picture of Vincent Gallo in my head disappeared, like a Polaroid fromBack to the Future. In place of Mr. Gallo's hairy ass, a talented singer-songwriterbegan to take shape, blurry at first, but clearer as the album wore on. If Arthur is careful, he'll be that legend he so desperately wants to be. And so on, on to that promise of a big hit next time around and a grade of 91 out of 100.)

JA: Man, I feel slapped around. That's a funny review.

HP: But you gotta give her credit for the Yes shirt.

JA: You've got to, man. You know, whatever. There's truth in the review. If you're an artist, there's a certain amount of narcissism that just goes with it. You can't go out and do it unless you're somewhat narcissistic. Do you know what I mean? I don't think you can really be great without attempting to be great.

And Joseph Arthur most definitely does that. diosyncratic singer-songwriter and painter Joseph Arthur has always been an enigma to me. First, there's his music: haunting and utterly nocturnal gravel-voiced hymns to desolation, lushly presented with eclectic beats, electronic loops and multiple tracks of his own voice. Most of this stuff is played by Arthur himself, both live and in the studio, and once you hear him, you'll always recognize his new stuff.

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