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Song of the day – 430: Iris DeMent

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Iris DeMent

I have three Iris DeMent stories I would like to share with you.

First: it was her album Infamous Angel I was listening to when I was being driven from New York City to Boston. We were hungover and late, and driving real fast. I looked up in the sky and saw this weird cloud formation in the sky – “Oh look, there’s an Angel of Death up there,” I stated, before amending it to, “I mean, a butterfly”. We were travelling fast. I discovered the following day upon my return to NYC that this musician I’d been out drinking with the night before – Charlie Ondras of Unsane – had died the exact hour or minute or something that I’d made that remark. I told this story to Iris when I interviewed her for Melody Maker a few months later. I was the first U.K. critic to talk to her: off our brief, I know, but there again we didn’t really have a brief back then.

Second: When Iris played England for the first time – I want to say it was the Jazz Cafe in London, that seems likely – my reaction to her performance got reviewed, alongside the music. Don’t ask me why. I think it was to help illustrate the effect her songs and voice could have on someone. Her voice and songs still totally kill me. She kept waving at me while she performed. I was totally overwhelmed by her presence, but some friends convinced me to go up to her afterwards – “She was waving at you, you really ought to say hello”. A whole bunch of people were waiting to talk to her, but when she saw me she grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go until they’d all gone away and we could talk in private.

Third: Last time I saw Iris play was in Portsmouth some time around 1996. My friends had long since disappeared into the mist, and I was too shy to say hello once again. I still regret it.

I am aware that in the intervening years, Iris has achieved a lot of her deserved acclaim: indeed, her songs have been used in television shows and recently one song was even in the Coen Brothers movie True Grit. This is entirely on the periphery for me. Her first two albums are special for me, and me alone.

If you get a chance, listen to ‘No Time To Cry’ from 1994’s My Life. You can find it here.

My father died a year ago today.
The rooster started crowing when they carried Dad away.
There beside my mother, in the living room, I stood,
With my brothers and my sisters, knowing Dad was gone for good.

Well, I stayed at home just long enough,
To lay him in the ground and then I,
Caught a plane to do a show up north in Detroit town.
Because I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry.

I’ve got no time to look back, I’ve got no time to see,
The pieces of my heart that have been ripped away from me.
And if the feeling starts to coming, I’ve learned to stop ’em fast.
`Cause I don’t know, if I let ’em go, they might not wanna pass.
And there’s just so many people trying to get me on the phone.
And there’s bills to pay, and songs to play,
And a house to make a home.
I guess I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry.

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