How about that new Joanna Newsom record, huh? Pretty great. But enough people are writing about her. Sonny Smith recently turned me onto this really incredible singer that I can’t stop listening to. “Earth Girl Helen Brown,” is her monkier. She had an sad, strange life, which explains the weirdo, fascinating music.
Earth Girl Helen Brown "Hit After Hit" (Side A); El Rincon Record Palace 002
Helen Brown was born in Vancouver, Canada, but raised in an Athens, Georgia-based religious cult, and was blinded in one eye from a childhood baseball injury. As an adult, she dropped out of Evergreen and traveled the country for a while as a nomadic psychedelic folksinger, before forming her first band One Eyed Tramps. For years, she lived alone in a mountaintop in southern Alaska, where she befriended a Cherokee Shaman (later revealed as a fake) who encouraged her to pursue a frustrating academic career. Rampant drug use, frequent fainting on stage, and occasional self-inflicted knife wounds on stage led to more interest in her stage antics than her music. However, a few sides did emerge in the late ’90s (recording dates unknown), which feature a unique mix of country, girl group, R&B, and ghoulishness. Crude and amateurish at best, these recordings are appreciated for their sincerity and intensity of feeling.
The record I’ve been listening to a lot lately is a 7″ (Shown above, great cover): “Hit After Hit,” on Side A and “So Long, Jerk” on Side B. The label is “El Rincon record Palace 002″ which I can’t find anything else about–maybe it was a home recording that was released after they were found in the ’90s. The recordings are barely audible but her anger and pain come through. The song titles break my heart a little bit. There’s something ironic in the title “Hit after Hit”: It’s like she is struggling with fame or acheivement–having “Hits”– but there’s this vulgarity and hardness to them that speaks of violence as well. Obviously, “So Long, Jerk” is about ending a romantic relationship, and it’s in this ’60s psych-folk style, but there’s something almost punk about it. It’s hard to think of this woman ever sitting behind a desk as an academic. There’s something truly wild in her voice.
Albums, Folk, Hits, Just Weird