Sibylle Baier, Colour Green
Earlier this year, a friend lent me Colour Green by Sibylle Baier. Recorded from 1970-73 on a basic reel-to-reel machine after a trip through The Alps in Genoa, it's songs achieve a starkness that will make some recall a certain floppy-haired English songster who sang of pastel moons. Some may even say Sibylle Baier is the female version of this person, he of the Fruit Tree.
Sibylle Baier doesn't appear to have been among an entrenched folk music or hipster culture. She did appear in the Wim Wenders film Alice in the Cities and it's speculated that "Wim" is about Wenders. A google search brings up as many hits detailing that one film appearance as her music career.
But the music sets itself apart, with a deliberate wistfullness, and a sober ken for the basic struggle of one's existence. One might say that Sibylle Baier doesn't sound like a very happy person, but that's honesty they're hearing, which involves alot of pain. Most people aren't willing to soberly face pain.
The bareness of the compositions (all but the final "Give Me A Smile" find Ms. Baier's voice accompanied only by herself on the Spanish guitar) belie a melodic inventiveness that brings to mind at some points Joni Mitchell, but less jazzy. "Softly", for instance, has a subtly acrobatic structure, a steady sing-song besieged by an almost lilting chorus of "my daughter my son one by one". The lyrics for the most part address simple encounters with friends and lovers, the fact of those quietly intense moments. One imagines a person alone in her kitchen fingering songs she wrote, keeping time with whatever's at hand, alone with various prospects and possibilities.
"Remember the Day" begins with the simple intonation "remember the day/ when I left home to buy some food/ myself in my painful february mood/ I did what I could". It goes on to describe the circumstances of a trip to Genoa, which brought her face to face with "the cold ocean", returning to "I did what I could". This countenance of one's own striving, besides bringing to mind any number of Robert Creeley poems, displays an exceptional kindness toward the self and the circumstances that bracket it throughout a life.
Though the music is soft, it evokes the muted after-effects of a harrowing experience. But maybe all of life is beautifully harrowing.
No song is more poignant than "The End", a document of a person quietly struggling with the end of a friendship, dealing in the plain facts of the situation and what can't be known on any other than a purely emotional level: "dear friend I cannot tell the reasons/ why we started well/ good time/ gave me some wine/ when you opened the door/ you seemed hurt/ didn't try to speak a word to me."
Sibylle Baier sings in a kind of breatheless way, albeit with a diction sometimes as plain as speech. When I hear Colour Green, I'm reminded of how lyrical song, whether in the context of music or poetry, can help a person who is otherwise very shy articulate themselves, even in detailing loss.
This record achieves a feeling like being completely alone, at say 3 in the morning. So naturally it's perfect for listening late at night. The final "Give me a Smile" is a nice lush composition with strings abound, but it also demonstrates that if the previous 13 songs were given that same ornamental treatment (compared to a single person with guitar anyway), their subtle genius might have sounded slightly less audible. Ultimately, with this kind of music, one wants just the person doing it. Quietly, bravely.