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Buy the Lady a Beer (2001)

In an academically earnest review of an album of Latvian beer songs (‘Alus Dziesmas’ 2001) that appeared in www.latviansonline.com , the reviewer was offended by the fact that the musicians seemed to have imbibed in the beverage that they were singing about. In effect, she thought they were good musicians, but drunk and ethnically undignified.  I was dutifully motivated to crack open a bottle of Piebalgs and jot off a response:

Buy the lady a beer

In her LOL review of UPE’s ‘Alu Dziesmas’, it is apparent that Amanda Jatniece was not informed of a critical fact, the knowledge of which is an obligatory prerequisite for a full-blown, multi-dimensional, cellular-level appreciation of this album. You have to have a beer. (Preferably more than one.) The only way you can access and achieve that same refined spiritual cosmic state that gave birth to these songs (and compelled enthusiastic people to sing them), is to duplicate the conditions that created them. Have a Piebalgas tumšais and it will start to makes sense. Down a Bauskas, follow that with an Užavas, and round it out with a Cesis or Tervetes, and suddenly every grunt, groan and guffaw takes on deep bio-sociological significance.

‘Alus dziesmas’ is a collection of traditional Latvian beer songs. Beers songs tend to be about beer. The only time people write or sing songs about beer, is while they are drinking it. While drinking beer, the people singing (or extemporaneously composing) enter into a biological and psychological state that has been made possible by the manner in which the beer interacts with their minds and bodies. You could say, they get happy. Happy, in a way that only beer can produce. Some, like the young gentleman with his head on the table on the cover of the ‘Alus Dziesmas’, are simply so enthralled by the dulcet tones of the accordion, that they enter a hypnotic state of pure musical ecstacy. I have seen people do this at Bach concerts.

While the lusty state of mind induced by the interaction of beer and song (they tend to supplement and enhance one another) has been known to impair the judgement of Latvian males, I have known many cases where it actually improves their singing. And the more beer you drink, the better they sound. This is a scientifically established fact.

Thus, as a service to all easily unsettled connoisseurs of ultra-traditional music, I offer the following record warning label: ‘Alus Dziesmas’ is a collection of songs about beer, written by people who drank it centuries ago, and sung by people who still drink it today. It is about as authentic as you can get. If you want to capture fishermen’s songs in their essence, you should record them on the deck of a steamer in the teeth of a gale on the high seas. If you want to capture the essence of a beer song, you have to record someone who is drinking it. It really sounds much better that way, believe me.

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