Boston At Nite ~ 11/2012

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Jaggery’s “Private Violence” and the Fine Art of Murder

photo: Matt Samolis

Great music often comes from great literature.  Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, based on Virgil’s Aeneid, is one example.  Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” is another.  Jaggery’s latest release, Private Violence, carries on the tradition with a collection of songs singer Mali Sastri wrote after reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

If you’re a fan, you know what’s in store: lush strings, haunting melodies, operatic singing.  The music is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t heard it before.  Jaggery invites synaesthetic interpretations.  Using literary terms — the album is like a Maupassant short story where the protagonist doesn’t know if he is alive or dead.  Or through scent — rich, musty, old and cobwebby, like musk and rosewater and pressed flowers.  Or like Gustave Dore’s Paradise Lost engravings — not in terms of intricacy, since the music of Private Violence is impressionistic and atmospheric, but in how these songs evoke a sense of both grandeur and loss.

The songwriting process for the album was the work of a sane mind coming to grips with the horrors of murder.  Singer Mali says, “In Cold Blood totally riveted me — in particular, the character of Perry Smith.  I fiercely identified with this man who had committed an atrocious murder 50 years ago.  It was like we shared the same personal psychology.  I read my own thoughts in what Capote wrote about Perry’s.  This experience led me into learning all I could about the Clutter case.  I was living in NYC at the time, and I began going to the NYPL Archive Division three times a week to pour over the apparently 6000 pages of microfilm of the notes Capote took.”

The songs in Private Violence are, predictably, about death.  “Trouble” is about killing.  “Hostage Heart” immortalizes Perry Smith at the very moment of his hanging — 17 minutes before he physically dies.  “No Sympathy,” which had been released as a single before, eroticizes the viscerality of violence, a la The Killer Inside Me, which was published seven years before the Clutter case.  “Oh My God” is the aftermath, and “End Song” is Mali Sastri emotionally depleted by these murders that she vicariously survived.

If you’re not familiar with Jaggery, go watch them play.  Their next show is on 20 December, at the Oberon in Harvard Square.  It’s part of Org, “Last Day On Earth,” which will feature apocalypse-themed performances (the last such Org, “Literati,” included burlesque poetry readings, literary presentations, and interpretive dance).  Or you can get yourself to their Bandcamp site at right now.  Everything’s free to steam; Private Violence is even free to download.

In the context of Boston bands, Jaggery is the exact opposite of, say, Aerosmith — their songs don’t have the word “baby” in them, they don’t have wattles, and the pelvic thrusts are kept off-stage.  Put on your headphones and imagine Madeline Usher come to life as the universe beautifully deconstructs all around you.  As Shakib Chowdhury of Bangladeshi prog-metal band Cryptic Fate says, “Jaggery’s songs are the brightest flowers in my avant-garden.”   ~ Arafat Kazi