Kimya Dawson charms the Cedar Cultural Center
Cedar Cultural Center, November 29
By Dan Sinykin
What trenchant irony that Kimya Dawson performed on Black Friday. No artist I know of better exemplifies countercultural earnestness than Kimya, whose emblematic line in this regard is, perhaps, "You call it civilized, I call it crap." Despite my mother's urgent exhortations that I get out to the mall and capitalize on the savings, i.e. purchase crap, I managed to deflect self-loathing and hole up in bed with David Foster Wallace until stealing off to Kimya's enclave of poop jokes and almost mystical subversion of image culture Friday night at The Cedar.
Now don't think I'm some sort of wildly liberal, freegan-ish uppermiddle class guilt anti-consumerism crusader or something. That's exactly the presumption that causes my most well-adjusted friends' faces to ball up with derision at Kimya's tunage. Put more succinctly, Kimya's critics complain that she is precious . Too cute, hyper self-conscious, self-pitying, self-centered to the point of irrevocable affectation, you know what I mean. I contend that these critics aren't really listening. They perceive the image, the toss-off melodies and whimsical vocals and presence in Juno . But then here's one of the take-away benefits of going to shows: you witness the artist in the flesh and can judge based on undeniable clues like carriage and facial expressions what type of person we've got, here. And so now I can tell you that Kimya Dawson is earnest and free from affectation and, as my +1 said was the only way you could put it, unpretentious.
Which brings me to another of Kimya's ironies and of Friday's show. Against a precious surface, Kimya delivers lyrics that I'm going to risk serious sneers at from you readers by calling authentic. I don't mean authentic in the chest-baring, Dashboard Confessional, pulsing heart-on-the-table nauseating way. Rather, Kimya's just really good with words, at picking the right details, at deftly deploying pop-cultural references, and at architecting narratives that get at the uncanny. Take, for instance, "I Like Giants," that manages to reinvigorate the cliché of our cosmic unimportance around the slogan, "I am just a speck of dust inside a giant's eye."
The downside of Kimya's subtle subversion of all sorts of images is that for a certain type of less careful listener she validates actual preciousness and mal-adjustment. Which, I guess, depending on your persuasion could be good or bad. If you're into that conditionless and blanketed everybody's-okay-yeah-everyone's-a-winner ethic then it's alright. But such validation okays Kimya's cohort Matty Pop Chart's wriggling look-at-me-oh-no-don't-look-at-me egocentric puerility that's what so many people think they hate about Kimya.
So listen to her closely. Back in 1990, in the DFW essay I read before the show, Wallace hoped with dimmest hope that someone might figure out how to be a new rebel, to "dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, [to] have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. [To] treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction." At this, Kimya does pretty all right.
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