The 25-year career of singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding has skyrocketed of late with the publication of no fewer than three critically acclaimed novels under his birth name, Wesley Stace. Equally amazing, the artist named for Bob Dylan’s misspelling of Texas gunfighter John Wesley Harden has just released the finest album of a career that’s seen him record at least 18 longplayers for labels ranging from high-profile majors to imprints so small the back catalog was stored in somebody’s garage between the cat box and the washing machine. Produced by old pal Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and fleshed out by no less than R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and the Decemberists, The Sound Of His Own Voice (Yep Roc) is a full-bore stunner with Wes (nobody calls him John) weaving his usual lyrical magic through knockout arrangements of extraordinary songs that revive the ghosts of the Kinks, David Lynch soundtrack guru Angelo Badalamenti and wall-of-sound maestro Phil Spector. For yet another career-topping milestone (gasp), JWH will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week for (yes it’s true) the second time. Read our brand new Q&A with him.
Harding: There is nothing I don’t like about Edward Lear. He wrote and drew something about the village I’m from in England, and he painted something else about a village, which is in the Philadelphia Museum Of Art (not of that same village).
He also wrote this, from one of the saddest and most beautiful poems of all time, “The Dong With The Luminous Nose” (his work is resolutely pre-Fruedian), the whole of which can be found here:
For day and night he was always there
By the side of the Jumbly Girl so fair,
With her sky-blue hands, and her sea-green hair.
Till the morning came of that hateful day
When the Jumblies sailed in their sieve away,
And the Dong was left on the cruel shore
Gazing–gazing for evermore,–
Ever keeping his weary eyes on
That pea-green sail on the far horizon,–
Singing the Jumbly Chorus still
As he sate all day on the grassy hill,–
‘Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue
And they went to sea in a sieve.’
Most of his work is nonsense, directed at children; and the most common image is of an impossible relationship between two people or things (the Dong/the Jumbly Girl; the owl and the pussycat; the nutcrackers and the sugar tongs) that can never realistically be a couple; and I suppose we can read into that what we will. Of himself, he wrote:
“How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!’
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough.’
He looms large in my next novel. And even larger in the one after that.
Photo after the jump.