Monday, July 21, 2008

The Jeweler, Pearls Before Swine (1970)

"Usually when I'd write a song, I get the feeling first, the mood and then it's like they say about sculpture; you chip away at everything that's not the mood and you're left with this song that was meant to be." - Tom Rapp, from a 1994 interview in Dirty Linen

Feeling and mood were the stock in trade of Pearls Before Swine, a lyrically potent band based originally in Florida that developed a small but rabid following among those of us who enjoyed a good metaphor in our music.

Considered by many to be this LP's most beautiful cut, I became aware of The Jeweler at a deeply melancholy time in my life when just about any well-crafted song had the capacity to undo me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words." In The Jeweler, Tom Rapp's sorrowful voice, the haunting piano and the story of a solitary craftsman conveyed in less than 3 minutes a moving homage to the unseen humanity of all of the world's loners. I wouldn't call it an anthem, but on some psychic level it surely was.

What became of Tom Rapp, who really was Pearls Before Swine? This 1998 story from the Washington Post is a fascinating read about the evolution of his life; as the writer notes, during the time that Pearls was on the scene, Rapp " ... spent all his time writing music that pleased him, and no time at all doing all the things musicians do to get noticed and rich." But the music has experienced a renaissance of sorts, and for some time there have been efforts afoot to ensure that Pearls' works survive their relative obscurity and that the recorded legacy be made available to others to enjoy. The latest on that effort is here.


cornbread hell said...

i can't believe you know of pearls before swine... thanks for the reminder. tom rapp...

i responded here before even checking if you know where i could find the music.

must go listen to the music...

thanks wendy.

(do you remember the incredible string band?)

wendy said...

*Remember* the Incredible String Band? Oh yeah ... I had every album and saw them live in DC in 1974. All part of that same zeitgeist that Pearls occupied. I'm having some difficulty determining whether their stuff has stood the test of time, though ... what I've been listening to online isn't affecting me the same way (I no longer have the vinyl).

KO said...

Ah-ha! I made it, not from my oppressive dungeon at work but from my panic room at home. Now I can leave cryptic messages in dead languages I made up five minutes ago. Wonderful song, thanks for the exposure.