Sea Peach by Catherine Kidd & Jack Beetz
Conundrum Press, Montreal, 2002
Someone (not a New Zealander) once told me that there used to be a TV program in the old NZ similar to the Australian show 'That's Amazing!', but which was actually called 'That's Quite Interesting!'. Well, whether that's true or not, that's what I thought after I read this book and listened to the accompanying CD. And that's about all I thought really. The whole thing went through me like a can of Coke: sweet and easy while you're taking it in, very familiar and kinda comforting, but not long afterwards, you say to yourself, 'What do I really want?'
Sure, it's shiny and fun and beautifully packaged, and the 65-minute CD is equally well-produced and mastered, with tasteful sound-scaping and well-honed performances, but I have to admit to fidgeting, with my own particular much used and abused sense of quasi-European ennui, at the relentless cleverness and quirkiness. (Isn't that the word once used to describe the most irritating pop music of the 80s — Mental As Anything in particular?)
Being a self-confessed student of life, and seemingly coming from the Laurie Anderson School of Performing Arts (majoring in Tom Waits Studies), you just know Catherine Kidd can't resist saying the word 'hiss' as 'hissssssss', and that she's going to laugh when she says certain things as if she just thought of them right then. Sometimes you can't help feeling the words don't matter to her so much as that she's actually speaking — this feeling is not helped by occasional discrepancies between the printed text and the recorded performance, especially in the case of the sentence 'It's only enemy that toothy little fish anxiety for years it followed me, nipping my Achilles from behind' (where 'in irony' replaces 'anxiety' when spoken.)
So, what do I find quite interesting then? Well, 'Downward Facing Dog' is an amusing and actually quite moving account (in a quirky kinda way) of sex with a stranger, and the recording is beautifully programmed to build to — ahem — a climax that is simultaneously elegiac, nerdy, and mysterious. The title piece, also, is a rich, layered meditation on the chord that joins all of us sentient beings with spines together, and it ends with a touching evocation of the voice that calls us to trust other humans. Kidd sums it up in a concise moment so rare, she italicises it, so that we don't miss it: 'First comes a voice, then comes a choice.'
I know well enough I'm being a little churlish, but there's something too easy, too smug about this particular creation. It seduces with its surfaces, impresses with the breadth of its knowledge of popular culture (although who around here doesn't have a vast amount of pop influences to draw on?), even as it makes a claim to some sort of academic credibility with a few snazzy literary allusions, but for me, it's a face with no heart. To this offering you might smile, say 'Thanks for a great night', and go on trawling. At some point the next day, the proposition 'If the will of God is unerring, perhaps it is also unconscious, like a protozoa' had me ruminating briefly, until I remembered I didn't believe in God. Amazing. It's so easy to forget important things, isn't it?