Amy Rigby – The Old Guys
Isn’t it interesting how things that are ostensibly within one’s galaxy of interest can nevertheless exist completely outside of the orbit of one’s awareness? So it is with Amy Rigby, whose solo records from the 1990s and early noughties really ought to have come onto my radar yet somehow didn’t. Ditto the albums made in more recent years with (husband) Wreckless Eric. Well, I say ‘recent’ for it has been six years since the last of those collaborations, but six years is both a lifetime and nothing at all when you are of this age.
‘The Old Guys’ then has been my first exposure to Rigby and whilst it certainly has had me scurrying back to uncover her earlier records, none have impressed me as much as this. For here, alongside what I now recognise as her trademark gift with a lyric, is what feels like a more robust and confident structure to songs and their sonic substance. But whilst it is a record rooted in what history might encourage us to call a masculine tradition of rock’n’roll, ‘The Old Guys’ is by turns funny, tender and yes, a record that isn’t afraid to call history out on that definition. One thing clear from listening to all of Rigby’s records (and a major pleasures of 2018 has been digging into those previous releases) is the sense of immersion in the cultural history of the music she is making. It comes over in the lyrics of course, notably in some of the song title references on ‘The Old Guys’ to Philip Roth, Bob Dylan and Robert Altman but it comes through too in the very fabric of the songs. These songs are threaded with knowledge and love. And incidentally, remember we were talking about Tom Petty and how it is only when artists die now that we really seem to make the opportunities to re-acquaint and re-connect with their treasures? Well Amy kinda riffs on that on the terrific ‘Tom Petty Karaoke’ which itself was inspired by seeing that video of J Mascis singing Tom Petty at, uh, a Karaoke bar and since we are on that riff ourselves let’s take in that Dinosaur Jr. cover of ‘Change of Heart’ whilst we’re here.
It’s the title track of ‘The Old Guys’ that I return to again and again, however. At its core it is the song that calls out history on its insistence on a masculine definition of rock’n’roll yet is also a song that celebrates the very things it despises; a song that simultaneously critiques the misogynist Rock culture whilst acknowledging her/our own complicit place in extending it (“keep laying tracks for the young ones to jump from”). Lyrically, Rigby seldom holds back, and there are some delicious moments in ‘The Old Guys’, notably early on when Rigby makes a dig at what I take to be the notion that as a woman in a male world, the most she could ever hope for is Not Very Much (“I set my sights for the middle, or somewhere below” followed by the barely concealed contempt of “say “Thanks for that” to the old guys”). Yet whilst she hardly pulls punches she does often dust the gloves with a wry humour. So inside those gloves are Robert Mitchum’s knuckles in ‘Night Of The Hunter’, Love and Hate combined in one simply complex relationship. There is something too in the way that the second half of the song is almost entirely bereft of lyrics, rotating in on itself in a cacophony of guitars that caterwaul against each other in a glorious dance of euphoric despair. It’s as if the song reaches a point where, point made, it can only jettison lyrical meaning and enter the realm of emotional response. It was that, now it is this. And this. And this. Tension and tease, confinement and escape into noise. Bliss.