Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tsuru no Ongaeshi - Lit Rock 102

The Crane Wife - The Decemberists (AM10): I wanted to dislike this album.  I was sure it was another case of hype leading the masses, like Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and indeed, quickly after the 2006 release of The Crane Wife, the album was elevated to godlike status, Waits-like status by the same crew who lauded Spiritualized, then, as easily, forgot all about them.  I consequently listened to The Crane Wife with my critic's pencil fully sharpened, but I left with it blunted. Despite my dedication to being contrary, I couldn't get enough of it.  Part of it was personal; I've always been drawn to the literary in music, from Gentle Giant channeling Rabelais and R.D. Laing to John Lennon quoting Joyce in "I Am the Walrus" ("Goo goo ga joob," from Finnegan's Wake), and here was this new bent of bands in the naughts hearkening back to more literary times.  Indeed, while listening to a mixed tape of Midlake and the Decemberists, a friend looked at me quizzically and said, "Tull?"  Cello, banjo, bouzouki, accordion, Wurlitzer, dulcimer, glockenspiel, pump organ, kitchen sink.  Musicianship, √. Everything from baroque pop to acid folk.  Production, √.   Keats, Shelley, Japanese folk tales.  Lyrics, √.  OK, The Crane Wife is flawless; maybe not quite ready for an AM10 (that longevity clause again), but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt; ten years of listening and I'm still satisfied, more satisfied.

Tsuru no Ongaeshi

Long ago there lived a young man. While working on his farm, a brilliant white crane came swooping down and crashed to the ground. The man noticed an arrow through one of its wings. Taking pity on the crane, he pulled the arrow out and cleaned the wound. The bird was soon able to fly again. The young man sent the crane back to the sky, saying, "Be careful to avoid hunters." The crane circled three times over his head, and then flew away.

As the day grew dark the young man made his way home. When he arrived, he was surprised by the sight of a beautiful woman whom he had never seen before standing at the doorway. "Welcome home. I am your wife," said the woman. The young man was surprised and said, "I am very poor, and cannot support you." The woman answered, pointing to a small sack, "Don't worry, I have plenty of rice," and began preparing dinner. The young man was puzzled, but the two began a happy life together. And the rice sack, mysteriously, remained full.

The wife asked the man to build her a weaving room. When completed, she said, "You must promise never to peek inside." With that, she shut herself up in the room. The young man waited patiently for her to come out. Finally, after seven days, the sound of the loom stopped and his wife, who had become very thin, stepped out of the room holding the most beautiful cloth he had ever seen. "Take this cloth to the marketplace and it will sell for a high price." 

The wife then returned to the room and resumed weaving. Curiosity began to overtake the man, who wondered, "How can she weave such beautiful cloth with no thread?" Soon he could stand it no longer and, desperate to know his wife's secret, peeked into the room. To his great shock, his wife was gone. Instead, a crane sat intently at the loom weaving a cloth, plucking out its own feathers for thread.

The bird then noticed the young man peeking in and said, "I am the crane that you saved. I wanted to repay you so I became your wife, but now that you have seen my true form I can stay here no longer." Then, handing the man the finished cloth, it said, "I leave you this to remember me by." She flew off into the sky and disappeared forever.