Perfect Sound Forever

Experience and Analysis
Parker and Lily: Here Comes Winter

picture by Ali Smith

by Karen Timkova (April 2003)

How could you miss me / sitting here with this pale girl / & my clear-as-gin halo
Don't you know / I love you / my whole drunken world / is a gaudy frame / for a picture-perfect girl
How could I not want you / sitting there with that pale boy / looking like there's no tomorrow /
Don't you know that / my whole drunken world / is a gaudy frame / for a picture-perfect girl
("Hello Halo" from Here Comes Winter)

It's no wonder why Parker Noon drops his guitar (gently) and walks out of the filled-to-less-than-capacity room after the final song of a Parker and Lily set. As warm and sweet as the tones produced by Lily Wolfe (his life partner) and Christina Campanella are, and as soft as Parker's mumbled voice is (anchored by his baritone guitar), one cannot ignore the confessions of infidelity and truth of marital struggle that go on in each dense-as-to-drown / frost-bitten phrase. A song becomes a feather underneath a stacked Cordovox boulder; feather-soft as a dream that occurs, almost miraculously, in a disturbed sleep state and is not completely forgotten upon waking.

The compactness of their music, the closeness of those involved, figuratively and literally, live and recorded, would seem uncomfortable if one were unable to see that truth really is beauty (all truth, even the unfortunate sort), which is something Parker and Lily have come to see plainly. Lily smiles. Lily bats her eyelashes. Lily blows a kiss. And Parker revels in his mystery.

My first mistake / was I ordered late / you already want me to go away
You already think I'm trouble / you brushed my arm when you poured my coffee
On your name-tag there's a silver heart / & silver letters that spell Ali
Why won't you wait (for me) / my pretty waitress (Ali)
I'll take you out to eat every night of the week / why won't you wait for me Ali
("Waitress" from Hello Halo)

Parker and Lily were once called Valentine Six, but that was before I was conscious of the duo. In my early adolescence, one of my obsessions was the outrageous and infamous dirty rockabilly of Speedball Baby and its three core members: Ron Ward, Matt Verta-Ray, and Ali Smith (the waitress). I had read that Matt Verta-Ray was playing steel guitar with a group called Parker and Lily, and I had found pictures of the group on Ali Smith's small website devoted to her photography. This particular New York musical coterie remains pivotal to my ears. Parker and Lily's first album, Hello Halo (2001) had just been released and it soon rode shotgun as I careened through the darkness, awake and asleep, in the hours before I had to leave my bed for work. Last summer, I unexpectedly found Here Comes Winter while perusing the aisles of famous New York record haunt Kim's Underground and later, at the record release party at Joe's Pub, was officially dubbed (by Lily), "the first New Yorker to own the album." Cristina Campanella, a multi-disciplinary artist, has been filling in the third seat usually occupied by her partner in some crimes, Matt Verta-Ray.

Trust in me, just in me / Shut your eyes and trust in me
You can sleep safe and sound / Knowing I am around Slip into a silent slumber / Sail on a silver mist
Slowly and surely your senses / Will cease to resist
Trust in me, just in me / Shut your eyes and trust in me
["Trust in Me (The Python's Song)" by Sterling Holloway]

In the past month or so, Parker and Lily performed three times in the New York Metropolitan area: Joe's Pub, Pete's Candy Store, and the Cutting Room. Although the first two stages were both exceptionally small in area, the band took up just as little space at the Cutting Room. The corner of Lily's stack of drum machines touch the corner of Christina's Farfisa station to make the equal sides of an isosceles triangle, Parker supplying the base of the figure with his guitar which he occasionally turns upward to use his slide. The girls sing nothing but sweetness and loveliness, sometimes tapping a cymbal or kicking a drum. The peaceful qualities on the surface of the music bring the audience to a somewhat light-headed state with images of blank airport waiting areas, planes in clouds, "fluorescent tubes flicker & lemon-colored die-cast girls glide by," ("Tokyo" from Hello Halo), "lipstick on a book of matches / blue light in patches with the volume down / motel lights are cold / & slowly they fold / their voltage to crowns" ("Motel Lights" from Here Comes Winter). In his part of the triangle, Parker lets go, falls to his knees, and sings to those who don't need the sound system to make sense of his mumble. The finale, during the last three shows, was "Trust in Me (The Python's Song)" from Disney's The Jungle Book. And with that statement, Parker leans his guitar on its amp and walks out of the room. Lily and Christina continue to play until the evening's bittersweet taste melts somewhere between your heart and your gut.

Contract / with insomnia / with the black cat / of teenage love
My apartment complex / never lets me / sleep at night
Signed P.N.
("My Apartment Complex," sung by Lily, from Here Comes Winter)

Parker and Lily record on the road. Being "in transit" is often brought up in lyrics, and the moody atmosphere involves a communicative movement between the two main characters. Titles that suggest this include "The World on Time," "Desert Holiday," "Tokyo," "2 Years in the Air," "Idle in Idlewild," "Bridge and Tunnel," "In Bonn," "Motel Lights," "Interior: Airport," "For C.L. (Iowa is Passing By)" and "Planes in Clouds." But, there's an intense loneliness that accompanies these journeys sometimes (such as in "Separate Rooms" and "My Apartment Complex"). Loneliness, in my lexicon, equals cold and knowing that another winter comes is simply what some of us eventually accept when connections are never constant. Connections, in fact, are costly. If one can suffer the winter, then one can earn the spring. Parker and Lily, on record, are a testament to this idea.

It's night outside / but always daylight in La Guardia / white on white
The hallways are too bright / & never quiet enough / drinks on tiny tables & cloud cover outside
In Love Field overnight / two years in the air / too much airport coffee
My time in the sky / on terminal standby / idle in Idlewild
("2 Years in the Air" from Hello Halo)

Parker and Lily, for me, reiterate the gray in life. Thinking in black and white is not healthy. Acknowledge the gray and you can live with the bittersweet. At the end of the day, I'd recommend a dose of Parker and Lily, so as not to be consumed by the bad, so as to be able to sleep and dream. Lily, Parker's ultimate muse, often wears a blend of black and white onstage, and her black mane has strips of light around her beautiful face. How much living must one do to be so singularly warm and wise? Lily's kiss and enchanting voice reassures another pale girl caught in the wind, trying to light a match in the late-autumn sudden-freeze, wandering into winter and hoping she'll see green before too long.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER