Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.

PJ Harvey Tuesday #18: “Good Fortune”

goodfortuneThis is a continuation of the PJ Harvey Tuesday series started at the Rumpus. You can see the Rumpus installments here and the rest of the Tusk installments here.

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I’ve been spinning some deep cuts the last two PJ Harvey Tuesdays, so this week I’m throwing out a crowd pleaser: “Good Fortune,” off 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. I’ve gone on record saying it’s my least favorite of Harvey’s albums, but it’s most people’s favorite. Snobs and hardcore PJ fans (I’m both) like to sneer that most people like it best because it’s “accessible” and “poppy.” Which it is—there’s less shouting, less distortion, sleeker production. But maybe there’s also something to be said for the fact that, contrary to the tastes of certain PJH columnists, it’s just happier.

“Good Fortune” is a case in point. The lyrics we were used to hearing from Harvey before this album tended toward rage and violence. Twisting lover’s heads off, cutting off their legs, drowning children, and so forth. In the one song where she said the words “I’m happy,” she immediately followed up with “and bleeding.” But here, all of a sudden, she “feels like some bird-of-paradise.” Now, somehow, “everybody’s got something good to say.” The song’s still in a minor key, of course—let’s not go too crazy—but instead of sounding furious, they sound hopeful, with a bit of gentle melancholy to keep the song optimistic rather than saccharine.

Stories is Harvey’s New York album (sort of), and she mentions Chinatown and Little Italy in “Good Fortune,” but the video is set in London. (You can tell because the license plates look funny and the cars are driving the wrong way!) It’s shot at night, with a huge floodlight illuminating Harvey as she runs around and shakes her hair and swings her purse like a slingshot. I can’t find the original video, but Wikipedia has a quote from an MTV2 special in which Harvey says that because she was improvising,

the crew would have to consciously be aware all the time of where I was moving because they might have to duck to get out of the line of vision. It was hilarious because then I kind of cottoned on to if I would move in a certain position I’d be able to watch the whole fifteen-piece male crew hit the ground immediately. So, a couple of times I’d do it on purpose and bang! Flat down as quick as they could.

When I say Stories is my least favorite album, that doesn’t mean I don’t love it, and here’s why: I listened to it a lot during the summer I was eighteen years old and went on a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego (a city Harvey mentions, coincidentally, on a different Stories track) with my then-boyfriend and another guy. But then the road trip revealed that I was kind of in love with the other guy and he was also kind of in love with me. Also we were all sharing one hotel room, so. So things got a little complicated. My then-boyfriend was my first boyfriend, and until him, I’d been ignored by virtually all the boys I knew except for the ones that actively rejected me. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was repulsive and unlovable and that I would die alone, and then suddenly, there were two people in love with me at one time.

That’s what I what I was thinking when I listened to “Good Fortune”: “Things I once thought / unbelievable / in my life / Have all taken place.” I mean, it was fucking agonizing, but it also felt like a miracle that any of that could happen to me. That I got to be in this living, jumping agony instead of the numb, wanting-to-die one. The situation didn’t exactly call for a happy pop soundtrack, but of course when PJ Harvey’s version of happy pop is different from most people’s, and it was exactly what I needed.

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