Poems and Texts

Untitled by Barbara Browning

I just went back and looked at the ukulele covers I’ve recorded in the last few weeks.

Sometimes the covers serve almost like a journal. Going over them helps me figure out what I’ve been preoccupied with, even if I haven’t fully articulated these things to myself. The reason people like popular songs is that even though they’re often banal – in fact, maybe because they’re often banal – they speak to some desire or anxiety or pleasure that we recognize as our own. My covers tend to represent the fairly predictable range of emotions that we all have, but I did notice – not surprisingly I guess – that in the recent batch, there were quite a few songs taking up the question of truth, lies, and doubt. I recorded the Black Keys’s “Psychotic Girl” for Abner. That was funny. I recorded Marisa Monte’s “Verdade, Uma Illusão,” which is very cheerful, although the words tell you that “truth” is always “an illusion, coming from the heart.” “Truth,” she says, “your name is a lie.” I did another one by Wye Oak called “Doubt.” That one’s pretty, but very dark. She’s telling someone that if they should doubt her love, they should remember one thing: “that I would lie to you if I believed it was right to do.” So you’re thinking maybe she’s the one to doubt – not her intentions, but anything that she may tell you is “true” – except that suddenly she tells you that you’re the one she doubts: “What I have learned of you does not assure… But I believed it then, believe it still.” It’s very confusing.

I’m not sure who I recorded these for. Maybe you’re thinking I was singing to Sami, or to Tye, or to Olivia, or imagining that one of them was singing to me. But maybe I was singing to Rebekah, or Abner, or Natali, or the horrorcore guy, or maybe I was singing to you.

Photo: Kari Orvik

Barbara Browning

Barbara Browning teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at NYU. In addition to her scholarly publications, she is the author of the novels The Correspondence Artist (winner of a Lambda Literary Award), I’m Trying to Reach You (short-listed for The Believer Book Award), and, most recently, The Gift (or, Techniques of the Body). She also makes poems, dances, videos, and ukulele cover tunes.

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