I’ve never met Kelly Hogan. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know me. So when I first heard a few songs off her latest album back in May 2012 it seemed odd to hear her singing all about my life.
Then I heard the entire album. More songs about my life. Scary. But scary in a good way.
Uncanny thematic accuracy perhaps is a better way to describe what I heard in Hogan’ssongs. Maybe it’s because she grew up listening to Charlie Pride and Tom Jones. And includes Tracy Ullman as a stylistic influence.
Kelly Hogan and I are both from the South and close to the same age, but those demographics can’t explain–do not explain–the something, the understanding, the recognition that seemed presence in the songs on Hogan’s album: I Like To Keep Myself In Pain. I can’t call it “familiarity” because familiarity seems too familiar. Too Tennessee Williams. Too much “I know the neighbor-down-the-road-through-gossip” feeling.
But still. There was an obvious thematic kinship happening. Maybe IT IS the Southern-rock-40-something-female sensibility thing. Anyway….
Before rediscovering Kelly Hogan through her work with Neko Case, I knew of her vaguely through her days with the Jody Grind, a Georgia band that occasionally played shows in Tuscaloosa in the early 90s before a tragic car accident ended the band. I lost track of Hogan in the late 90s. (In many ways I lost track of myself in the 1990s. No interest in reliving THAT decade.)
Fast forward to 2008-09. By this time I’d discovered Neko Case through her work with the New Pornographers and a lingering interest in the mid-80s-cowpunk genre/paisley underground. Album reviews of bands related to that music scene in the early/mid-2000s frequently referenced Neko’s solo work, so I’d finally started to pay attention.
Although I already owned her earlier albums, Case’s 2009 release, Middle Cyclone, floored me–for a host of reasons, including the production quality and the backing vocals.
I think it was Case’s Letterman appearance that really introduced me to Kelly Hogan. As a member of the high school chorus (and a fan of the backing singers on a host of Motown-era songs) I’ve always had a kinship with backing vocalists. Not that I’m a good vocalist, mind you. The entire production aspect of that Letterman performance far exceeded anything I’d ever seen on late-night TV.
At some point in 2011, I started following @HoganHere on Twitter. I had the great fortune to see Hogan perform with Case in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (along with My Morning Jacket). Footnote: I think that show was the second hottest, most humid concert I’ve ever attended (#1 hot/humid atomic meltdown was the Go-Go’s at Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta, 2000 when Psychedelic Furs & B-52s were on the bill).
In any event, Hogan pulled off some stellar vocals during their set in Tuscaloosa.
All that gets me to here: I was thrilled to hear earlier this year that Hogan would be releasing an album.
I Like To Keep Myself In Pain
When I first heard I Like To Keep Myself In Pain, my first thought was this: “This woman is singing my life.”
I think I tweeted that it was bittersweet without being bitter or painful. Something like that.
It’s interesting that with one exception, Hogan didn’t write the songs on I Like To Keep Myself In Pain. Instead of writing her own songs, she wrote “fan letters” to many of her favorite songwriters and asked them to contribute a song for her album. Although she’s not the songwriter, Hogan’s selections provide an uncanny representation of most of the motifs that I find present in my own life. And her vocal delivery is impeccable.
I’ve been intending to write this blog post since early June. On Saturday morning, June 2, I was driving to the East Lake Farmers Market near my home in Birmingham just as NPR’s Scott Simon started an interview with Kelly Hogan for Weekend Edition.
Hogan spoke of listening to Charlie Pride and Tom Jones. Ahem, that’s kinda my childhood. Except that you need to throw in some Skynyrd & Stones, Box Tops & Turtles, Tammy & George, Loretta & Conway, Bowie & Blondie. OK, so Bowie & Blondie were part of my teen years (not my childhood), but still… The point is that she grew up listening to a lot of different types of music.
Although the album is not connected to Muscle Shoals, the Muscle Shoals music connection exists. Booker T. Jones is present. And Hogan has this cool history with the DBTs, Mavis Staples and others who have strong ties to the Shoals. Hogan may not have the Tennessee River flowing in her veins, but she has friends who do. And she has the Muscle Shoals Sound groove.
Anyway, In that Weekend Edition interview, Hogan talks about how she picked her songs, comparing the selection process to how a “dog picks you” at the animal shelter. Yep. Been there. Twice with dogs. Both of my dogs picked me. Once with a cat. I wasn’t even there to adopt a cat and a cat picked me.
So to recap: These songs picked Hogan, like abandoned animals pick new homes. And these songs Hogan sings are about my life. And her band and musical influences are artists that shaped my own childhood and musical history: I guess we all have more in common than most people want to acknowledge these days.
After running across a recent World Cafe interview with Hogan, I decided it was time to write this post that’s been percolating in my head since June. My words can’t do the album (or Kelly Hogan) justice, but I hope by bringing it to the attention a few more (new?) fans the album will continue to garner the attention it deserves.
My favorite songs on the album (at the moment) are probably: (My favorites have evolved over the past few months)
1. The title track I Like To Keep Myself In Pain: I’m a firm believer in staying outside my comfort zone. And I’ve certainly done my part, generally, to make sure that I must work extra hard to take advantage of any opportunities to come my way. (Anyone else familiar with self-sabotage or making things harder than they need to be?) And I’m a big fan of Robyn Hitchcock, as well.
2. Haunted: “…Gaze into the ruins of your life/draw what parallels you like/just don’t look down….”
These lyrics remind me of lyrics from the title track off the Go-Go’s Unforgiven album of 2001: “remodeling the wreckage of my past…” The two songs aren’t remotely similar but the messages are.
3. Golden: Hogan apparently wrote this song for Neko Case at a time when Case was going through a rough-ish patch in getting her career off the ground.
“I wanna hear you talking to me through a pay phone/Telling me that dreams can turn real/Cause I’ve been there before/Knocking at the door….”.
Dreams can turn real. What’s really cool is cheering that your friend’s dream will turn real. While continuing to pursue your own dream.
While doing some research for this post, I ran across this comment from Neko Case about Kelly:
“I’d watch how she’d go through situations–she could curse up a storm, but she was also this fine Southern lady with a gentle way about her that was so respectful of other people….”
When I saw Hogan on stage in Tuscaloosa with Case I could kinda see that play out in the stage dynamics. Hogan was just really, really cool during what was obviously a hot, crowded and challenging night on stage.
It’s cool to hear one friend say that about another. I’m sure it’s not a Southern thing. But maybe it is a Southern thing. I’m fortunate to have a few friends like that in my own life.
Hogan’s graciousness is present in Golden. You can feel that Hogan truly wants Case to get the golden ticket she’s earned and deserves. THAT, my friends, is what friendship is all about.
Kelly Hogan Has The Gift.
We should all be thankful.
I’m sure the reason I don’t have the natural ability to sing pitch-perfect all the time is because it’s something I’m not meant to do outside my car or karaoke night.
If I had the vocal and poetic talents of Kelly Hogan, I’d have pursued a music career–no ifs/ands/buts. I was the 70s kid who knew every word to every song on the radio. I was the 70s kid who dreamed of being on-stage (Yes, I even had my grandmother make a Donny Osmond stage suit for me–designed by moi).
Since I don’t have that talent, I’m doing something else. Kelly is the one with the gift.
Kelly Hogan deserves her own “Golden” moment.
In 1986 saw the film: The Trip to Bountiful. I was living in Miami at the time and the film was playing in a art-house theatre near my apartment building on Miami Beach. I was a relatively-jaded 23-old-old. But I was moved to tears by the film. Geraldine Page had already won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Trip to Bountiful. As he announced the Oscar®, F. Murray Abraham described Geraldine Page as “the greatest living actress in the English language.” When I had the chance to see the film, I saw it.
Kelly Hogan is music’s Geraldine Page.
You have the chance to buy her music. Don’t miss the opportunity. Order I Like To Keep Myself In Pain: Here and now. (This is not an affiliate link). I hope you’ll support the true artists, the “real” artists who create real music.
If you can see Hogan perform live, please do yourself a favor and go to the show. I haven’t had the opportunity to see her in a solo performance. I hope that changes soon.
When I lived in Oklahoma I adopted a death-row Lab from an overcrowded, usually no-kill, shelter. I named this very large, black dog–Bama.
During our walks around green-belt surrounding our neighborhood, Bama would often find unique-and-tasty food items, like pancakes, granola bars and turkey carcasses. Once Bama stuffed her nose into the grass–rather like a pig rooting around for turnips–and surfaced with a fully-cooked, bone-in pork chop.
Like I said, Kelly Hogan sure seems to know a whole lot about my life.
[Updated September 23, 2012 to edit some very wordy sentences and fix a few other problems, including AP style errors.]