Thursday, 6 September 2012

Martha Wainwright - Proserpina

I have the absolute privilege of working on the new Martha Wainwright record, and as a big fan already, I've been happily savouring every spin of 'Come Home To Mama' on my way to work in the mornings. 'Proserpina' was one song that particularly caught my ear. Piano-led and emotionally raw, its lyrics fraught with anguish, Martha's delicate and moving delivery over accompanying strings was enough to send shivers.

As the title suggests, the narrative is based on the myth of Proserpina (named Persephone in Greek mythology); the goddess who was taken to the underworld and whose mother, Ceres, ceased the growth of fruits while she searched the earth for her missing daughter. Mercury was sent to retrieve her from the depths, but as Proserpina had eaten the food of the dead before leaving, she had to be returned to the Underworld for three months every year, symbolising the harsh winter months.

Written from Ceres' perspective, the song very much carries the weight of a loss, searching and tiring from grief and the unknown. It's particularly poignant that 'Proserpina' was the final song to be written by Martha's late mother, the wonderful Kate McGarrigle, before her passing in early 2010. Martha has said of her mother and brother, Rufus, “We wrote songs together, ever since we were children. As we sing her songs, I think her voice can be heard in ours, literally through our pipes.”

 Despite the shivers on the bus, I was fully unprepared for the unequivocal sadness and candor that the video would bring to the music. It's a stark and deeply personal performance, devoid of any big budget effects or gimmicks, with only the gradual changing of the seasons as a background, depicted from light scatterings of autumn leaves or snowflakes, as the light bursts and fades. Watching it feels almost like an intrusion, or even an uncomfortable confrontation of the viewer's emotions, too. It's so simple and stunningly beautiful.

Martha Wainwright: Proserpina on
Dir. by Matthu Placek.

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