Courtney Barnett, at age 30, has been hailed as many things: she’s been called “the female Bob Dylan of the era,” “arguably one of the greatest songwriters of this decade,” and “undeniably the biggest breakout singer-songwriter of an Aussie generation.” All of these accolades totally work for me since I happen to absolutely love her music. I just described her the other night, in fact, as a force to be reckoned with. They don’t, however, always work for her. When her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, exceeded everyone’s expectations and even earned a Grammy nomination, Barnett was stunned by the recognition and adulation. In the aftermath of it all, she has remained relatively unchanged, which makes me like her even more. Barnett’s breakout hit and the song that first captured my attention is “Avant Gardener.” It actually came from an earlier release called The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, and its corresponding YouTube video currently has over 6 million views. Pretty amazing for a song with no traditional chorus and the success of which had Barnett feeling like it was “this big joke she’d pulled on everyone.”
The song describes a panic attack that Barnett actually suffered after she decided to drag herself out of bed to do some much needed weeding of the front lawn and “to take [her] mind away from where it [was] supposed to be.” Her ambitious plans included planting an actual garden, but they were thwarted by her asthma and a subsequent bout of anaphylactic shock, both of which led to a panic attack and a trip to the hospital in an ambulance. It was a fairly significant life event, but Barnett’s lyrics recount it in a way that is totally irreverent and almost comical. Her signature deadpan voice delivers the lines about not being able to breathe without emotion: “I’m breathing but I’m wheezing / Feel like I’m emphysemin’ / My throat feels like a funnel / Filled with weet bix and kerosene.” She readily acknowledges that the song was an attempt at finding humor in a bad situation, and she admits to being astonished that people actually liked it as much as they did. There’s a definite parallel here in her reaction to the acclaim given this particular song, and the way in which she remains surprised and a bit uncomfortable with the unapologetic adoration her listeners have for her. The lines “the paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar / I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying” are completely indicative of her often self-deprecating approach. If Barnett’s delivery of her lyrics tends to downplay her gift as a songwriter, her guitar playing does no such thing. It’s clearly where she feels most comfortable. This is true of its role in “Avant Gardener” as well. Although Barnett may be recounting this particular experience in as understated a manner as possible through her lyrics, it’s the music of the song, and her guitar in particular, that clearly communicate the sense of panic and the calm that follows after her shot of adrenaline. Is this intentional? She’d probably say no, but I think it’s undeniable.
What to do for today’s cocktail?? It had to be a riot of all things herbal and floral, with some real bitterness, and a strong woodsy flavor that was powerful enough to create definite warmth on the way down. Since June 4th starts Negroni Week, I was already thinking in that direction and reached for my Bluecoat gin and Campari first. The third component of the drink had to pull in both the floral element and that strong “greenness,” but there was no way for me to get there with just one ingredient. I split the final ounce between St. Germain and Clear Creek Distillery’s Eau-de-Vie of Douglas Fir. At 95 proof, it gave me just the burn I was looking for. I also muddled in rosemary, sage, and thyme for an even stronger herbal presence. The end result was a cocktail that definitely matched the feel of “Avant Gardener” for me. The symmetry of the Negroni as an equal parts drink mimicked Barnett’s controlled lyrics, and the burst of flavors matched the rise and fall of the music, with the Douglas Fir standing in for Barnett’s guitar. I drank this cocktail while listening to the song along with my youngest son, Connor, a huge Courtney Barnett fan and one of three music gurus in my life. He gave it a thumbs up. Click on the link at the bottom of the post to listen for yourself. Cheers everyone! Happy Wednesday!
Having Trouble Breathing In
Place one rosemary sprig, one sage sprig, and several thyme sprigs into the bottom of a mixing glass. Add the remaining ingredients and muddle. Add ice and stir until very cold. Pour over one large cube and garnish with something herbal. Enjoy!
*Check Clear Creek’s website for distribution information or order from Benash Liquors in Cherry Hill, NJ, if you’re local.
Sources: Rolling Stone, GQ Magazine, The Guardian