We are in the midst of Week 15 of my CSA: the season is half over. I can hardly believe it!
To mark this midpoint, I present you with a platter of songs about or relating to vegetables. There weren’t many to choose from! Sweets and indulgences–fruit, candy, booze–are the go-to food metaphors for contemporary music; typically, food is invoked to connote pleasure and fun, and vegetables don’t top the list of associations for either. Some of the songs on this list invoke vegetables for whimsy–music and produce make an appealingly odd juxtaposition–but others have a more serious, anxious edge.
#1. Andrew Bird, “Vidalia”
On Bird’s earlier albums, possibly before he crystallized his associative, freestyle method for writing lyrics, there are a few of these whimsical but coherent tunes that stay on one topic all the way through. The gist of this one: the narrator used to eat vidalia onions and only vidalia onions, like apples–until the day he shamefacedly switches to meat.
#2. Cibo Matto, “Artichoke”
A longtime favorite of mine. It’s a slow-burn, repetitive, creepy melody about being emotionally consumed, presumably by a lover. “My heart is like an artichoke,” the vocalist repeats, and then expands the metaphor to describe her vulnerability: petals peeled open, dreading a squeeze of lemon. Ouch! The song is incredibly long–I’d forgotten that my version is one I cut down to fit on mixed CD ten years ago.
#3: Pink Martini, “Hold on Little Tomato”
This song is cute and a little silly. Pink Martini’s big instrumentation and velvet vocals are usually deployed in renditions of lounge classics or Latin American love ballads, but in this poky little tune the singer croons about hanging in there (on the vine) and waiting for sunshine after the rain. This version is live with a long trombone intro. It’s worth it for the vocalist’s dulcet tones.
#4: Regina Spektor, “Reading Time with Pickle”
The pickle is important to this story–Spektor sings the ingredient list mournfully as she comes to terms with its limitations–but really this song is about love.
This video is actually a slideshow of fans’ hands with the lyrics written on them, because I’m fascinated that such a thing exists.
#5: An entire chamber music series called “Dream Vegetables,” featuring Maggie Anderson’s poetry set to music
Despite all the food-themed poetry I’ve digested as part of my research–the plum-stealing and peach-daring and pears looking like bottles or viols–I remain particularly fond of Maggie Anderson’s brief sojourns into the psyches of vegetables growing in her garden bed. Anderson depicts corn, squash, cabbages, potatoes, and radishes as sleeping (garden bed? get it?), but many of them are troubled by anxious or fearful dreams. “Insomnia” is one of my favorites.
The radishes pace in their red plaid bathrobes
and wish for sleep. They grow up and down
simultaneously and are preoccupied. Their green
tops keep them awake like fast conversation
they feel compelled to be in on, while
the white tangled threads of their pale roots
drag them down. They should have said something
else. They flush and fidget in the light topsoil
like reprimanded pups. Radishes sear the tongue,
the aftertaste of vigilance. They dream the burning
need for dream, the black dirt that won’t go away,
the fear of intimacy, of breathing.
At some point in my research, I stumbled across a CD of Stephen Gyrc’s chamber music, which includes six short pieces inspired by the dreaming vegetable poems. On the CD, the poems are gravely recited over the whimsical (often frolicking) stylings of clarinet, violin, and marimba. The arrangement is odd, but I really love that such a thing exists.
I’m not able to embed audio on this version of WordPress, but you can get a taste of these dream vegetables at allmusic.com. Try “Insomnia,” one of the darker and moodier pieces, or “Falling,” a precarious portrait of tomatoes growing ripe and heavy (perhaps someone should play Pink Martini for them?).