John Wesley Harding's Love Hall Tryst

Music Features John Wesley Harding
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When the editors of Paste asked me to write about Songs of Misfortune, the new CD from The Love Hall Tryst (a supergroup featuring John Wesley Harding and Kelly Hogan, as well as Nora O’Connor and Brian Lohmann), they suggested that I “trade on” my “history” with Hogan (I wrote a song on her first solo album).

I said, “That’s the kind of self-serving crap I hate to read.” Then I said OK.

Before the album, Harding—writing under his birth name, Wesley Stace—conjured a feast of tenderness, flesh, wit and melancholia (by which of course I mean a novel) called Misfortune, anchored by a male narrator who sometimes passes as a woman. And remember the song I wrote for Kelly? On the back of the album it’s on, she sports a moustache and cigar, and rather favors the dashing Ernie Kovacs. Coincidence?

Here we have Harding/Stace, a man with two names (one of an outlaw; one, perhaps, of a dandy), writing about a person of two sexes. Isn’t music essentially feminine, about openings? As for writing, consider the masculine quill.

On the album, Harding and his cohorts belt out murder ballads in eerie, close, entirely naked harmonies. The CD is based on songs from the book. The book—not to give anything away—hinges on a song. More mirrors, more doubles, more of the happily androgynous mixture. But Stace insists that the book and CD are independent.

“The publisher asked me to include a CD with the book and I said absolutely not. A good book doesn’t need a CD in the back. As I wrote the songs for the book, I heard the tunes, because that’s the way I write. It seemed like a crime to leave them fallow on the page.”

Stace (I mean Harding, the singer) says that one of the greatest benefits of the work is its latest permutation: the tour he’s beginning with Hogan, whose camaraderie he cherishes.

Hogan is no less effusive. Her recollections of “Wes”—which would make their own rollicking novel—are scaled down here to fit my 400-word assignment:

“Shepherd’s pie … beer and codeine … aged Scottie got into Wes’ suitcase and ate two packs of Nicorette gum … impossible energy, acumen and good humor … cardio-vascular stamina … a plush velvet settee and a tray of cherry scones.”

Yet when I tell her the editors want some comment on our history, Hogan falls curiously mum. Ah, fiction! Ah, history! Ah… misfortune.

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