Listening to the 18-minute musical monologue has been a Thanksgiving tradition among folk music fans for decades.
Each week NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson brings us new music from around the world.
Thompson says the song doesn’t follow the usual structure.
“Instead of having a verse-chorus-verse structure, the song essentially plays out as a ramble, wherein she tells an engrossing story about going out to tend to her garden, only to be stricken with some combination of asthma, allergies, and panic. She’s telling a story with life-and-death stakes, but she does it with a very charming, wry, matter-of-fact tone.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, has your week felt a little lackluster? Maybe it's because you were missing your song of the week. NPR's music writer and editor Stephen Thompson is here. What have you got for us?
STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: All right. I've got a singer from Melbourne, Australia named Courtney Barnett. I just saw her play a show a few weeks ago, and I was totally smitten with this song of hers called "Avant Gardener" - a little pun there. Instead of having a verse-chorus-verse structure, kind of a standard pop song structure, this song essentially plays out as a ramble.
Over the course of the song, she tells an engrossing story about going out to tend to her garden only to be stricken with some terrifying combination of asthma and allergies and panic. So she's telling a story with life-and-death stakes. She's being loaded into an ambulance. But she does it with this very charming, wry, matter-of-fact tone.
YOUNG: Let's listen to a bit of "Avant Gardener."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVANT GARDENER")
COURTNEY BARNETT: (Singing) I'm breathing, but I'm wheezing. Feel like I'm emphysem-in. My throat feels like a funnel filled with weet bix and kerosene. And oh, no, next thing I know, they call up triple O. I'd rather die than owe your hospital till I get old. I get adrenaline straight to the heart. I feel like Uma Thurman post-overdosing kick-start.
YOUNG: You know, Stephen, just a confession here, I don't usually listen to lyrics. I am a music person myself. But I'm listening to these lyrics. It's a good story.
THOMPSON: Well, she has that lovely, warm Australian accent that causes you to home in on what she's saying. The storytelling is what's central to this song's momentum and the way it builds. Like I said earlier, it doesn't build into these big choruses, though she does repeat lines like I'm not that good at breathing in, which is a nice, you know, kind of a nice chorus in and of itself.
But as the song unfolds, you get such a great feel for this woman's personality and the unambitious way that she lives her day-to-day life and the scary stuff she goes through on this particular day, and even her admiration for the emergency medical personnel who helped her out along the way. And there's such an easygoing, approachable, kind of knockabout, shooting-the-breeze vibe, and yet I still find the song totally riveting.
YOUNG: Do we know, by the way, if she's any of these things, a gardener, someone who suffers asthma, someone who has allergies?
THOMPSON: It's funny, because everything is phrased so autobiographically, that even if it's not true, it might as well be.
YOUNG: So you heard it here first: "Avant Gardener" from Courtney Barnett's new album "The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas," from NPR music writer and editor Stephen Thompson. Thanks so much.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Robin.
YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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