'I believe in luck. How else can you explain the success of those you don’t like?' ― Jean Cocteau


Blake Mills: HEIGH HO

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Sep 18, 2014
Category: Rock

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“I got a new CD today,” I said. “Guess who?”

“Josh Ritter,” the 12.5-year-old replied.


“Blake Mills,” she said.

Right answer. And a funny answer. We laughed and laughed.

Why funny? Because it’s completely correct that 12-year-olds should loathe Blake Mills — he’s from a breed unknown to young music fans: a pure artist.

Oh, I’m sure he knows the power of a dollar — he produced the next Alabama Shakes CD, which should pay a lot of bills — but the beauty of Blake Mills is that his primary concern is making music that’s absolutely authentic to the moment of creation. And then, because he’s a genius at the editing console, authentic to the possibilities of production.

Until “HEIGH HO,” his new CD, he’s been so low-profile as to be subliminal. His first CD, Break Mirrors, featured a cover photo that wasn’t him. And he was as likely to play in a surf shop as on a stage.

But he’s just too good not to get noticed. Eric Clapton called him “the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.” Fiona Apple showcased him on tour. And now we have a CD released on a real label, with his picture on the cover, even if it’s mostly obscured by giant type. Well, he can push/pull all he wants. He can’t hide the bottom line: This is magnificent, challenging, adult music, this is what music aspires to, this is Art. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]

Mills has a deeply idiosyncratic attitude about words, and the title of the CD is a tell. “HEIGH HO” first suggests a song from a 1937 Disney movie about Snow White: “Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go…” The dictionary definition is all over the map: “used typically to express boredom, weariness, or sadness or sometimes as a cry of encouragement.” Meaning, exactly, what?

So when it comes to lyrics, he’s not entirely trustworthy on the question of sincerity. In “Don’t Tell Your Friends About Me” we find:

I know I fucked up,
I know I fucked up,
I know I fucked up,
I know I fucked up,
I know I fucked up
I know I fucked up
I know I fucked up
I know I fucked up

As sung, that brutally honest repetition is powerful and then some. But in the same song, I find irony:

You said you just needed some time to adjust
Then here’s 48 hours, 3 weeks, and 2 months

My takeaway: We shouldn’t over-think his lyrics. Better to just listen, and listen closely.

Possible proof of my thesis: a song with lyrics printed on the video. Do they make a difference? Not to me.

“The singer/songwriter thing is a lifelong study of one’s self and the human experience,” Mills has said. “All we’re doing is trying to invent words for things that people have felt or might feel at some point. That’s the job.”

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if more musicians felt that way?

Short takes

Josh Ritter: “I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life”

What happens when a creative person gets happy? The work suffers. Josh Ritter now has the love of a good woman, a child and a backyard that he measures in acres, and yet he sang 17 new, unrecorded songs in a row at City Winery that were simply impeccable. He’s still Josh Ritter — there were goofy stories (“I learned a lot about spray paint the first time I used it”) and wry lyrics (“If you’ve got to cry, cry softly”) — but the music was different in a way that’s hard to describe. These weren’t just new songs but a new kind of songs, like he’d found 17 pages from the Great American Songbook written in invisible ink and decoded them. (Of course he and Zack Hickman ended the show with rousing classics, and in the Church of Ritter, we screamed and screamed.) There are two more shows in this mini-tour, in Denver and Los Angeles. Strong suggestion: Do not tarry.

What about Jennifer’s Mom?

Richard Lewis had just published Why Hire Jennifer? How to Use Branding and Uncommon Sense to Get Your First Job, Last Job, and Every Job in Between when he was hit with a question he hadn’t considered.

What about Jennifer’s Mom? How do women with miles and years on Jennifer — and just as little recent job experience — market themselves for their next job?

Richard’s response: “Because society has done a great job of making Moms feel crappy about themselves and their ability to return to work after years running a household, parenting kids and often doing all that without a husband, Moms need my message as much as their kids. So, Moms, use the networking skills you developed for family and home to find a meaningful job. (“Hey, Sara, doesn’t your brother run marketing at…?”) Contact firms you want to work for as opposed to just answering ads. Learn the new office etiquette. How to find a mentor. How to avoid the asshole. How to succeed. The good news? Some things have changed in business that help your juggled life; you may even be able to work from home. And there may be others, just like you, who know the ropes. Oh, and when you’re through with the book, you may want to pass it on to your college grad.”

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials. Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well.

from Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.