Compare and Contrast:
Chris Isaak and
BY JON DAVIS
[Originally published November 8, 2012.]
Editor’s note: We are fans of both artists. Really.
Chris Isaak arrives early in yellow swim trunks, a bright towel hanging like a horseshoe around his neck. He’s been on the beach with two supermodels-in-training. They’re with him now as he looks for a piano. Suddenly, a diaphanous song materializes above him. He whispers into its ear. It follows him into the studio, clacking on its oversized heels.
Van Morrison arrives late, coughing into his fist. He spent the night on Cypress Avenue. A pale woman in a large black hat, her thin arms festooned with bracelets, floats behind him. He needs a guitar right now. A song is pouring out of his chest. He catches it in the soundhole of the guitar.
Chris Isaak has his people call for an arugula salad, with cranberries and walnuts and thinly sliced Ahi, a bottle of champagne. He passes out chopsticks to the supermodels-in-training. They circle the salad as if it were an altar to loveliness and success. Chris Isaak lights a candle. They all laugh and eat. With chopsticks, Chris Isaak plucks an arugula leaf stuck to one woman’s pouty lower lip.
Van Morrison becomes famished. He discovers a lamb in the meadow behind the studio. He slaughters it with a tenor saxophone. A single blow to the head. He butchers it, lays a fire using old Decca labels and peat, then roasts the lamb on a rock he sets in the middle of the fire. Lustily does he eat the lamb, slipping chunks also into the red mouth of his woman.
Chris Isaak has a pallet made on the floor. He puts a sleep mask on. The supermodels-in-training curl beside him. They lay their heads carefully on his chest, facing each other. Chris Isaak places his hands lightly on their heads, slipping his fingers into their hairstyles. They sleep.
Van Morrison must slumber. He flops on the floor. Pulls his woman down with him. Together, they kick at things—dishes, books, guitars, horn charts, discarded lyrics—until they’ve cleared enough space. Van Morrison pulls the small woman to his chest. Holds her tight until dawn.
Chris Isaak is feeling it and the musicians arrive. They uncase their instruments. Tune. Chris Isaak runs over the lyric. It’s about two supermodels-in-training. Palm trees. Laughing and drinking champagne. During the bridge they all roll in the wet sand. But one of the women has left Chris Isaak. The other won’t tolerate his advances. He aches for one, longs for the other, talks to neither. O, sweet conundrum. His voice quavers with it. He’s never been happier.
Van Morrison wants to record. He calls up a saxophonist, a drummer, and a bass player. The saxophonist’s instrument has been run over by a truck. The drummer was recently blinded in a chemical spill. The bass player is homeless. Van counts it off, lays out the chords. “Hut” he shouts and the drummer whacks the tom. He’s whispering where they thought he would sing, crooning where they thought he would growl, growling where they thought he’d call for a solo. The woman in the black hat is lost to swaying. She takes a long solo with her hips and shoulders. Outside the surviving lambs are bleating. The rain slaps the roof like a tambourine.
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