If you’re looking for some commentary on the Academy Awards nominations today, Arts Desk has your back. Our film critic, Tricia Olszewski, had a little to say about the surprises (few) and all the Best Picture nominees under the new Academy rules (many). But I want to kick it slightly old-school, and talk about a movie nominated several years ago: Juno, a lovely little film that more or less ruined the word indie for all posterity, and opened with a weird little song by a D.C.-area children’s singer named Barry Louis Polisar. A tribute album to Polisar recently came out, and the singer’s publicist has been nudging me to write about it. So here goes!
Backing up a bit: Right now, one of the happier dudes in Tinseltown has to be Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, whose film Up in the Air netted six Oscar noms. But Reitman really earned attention as a director with his second film, 2007’s Juno, which for all our sakes I won’t recap here.
Although it won’t earn him auteur status, one consistent feature of Reitman’s films is inventive opening-title sequences: In Juno‘s, the title character played by Ellen Page walks down the street in a semianimated state to Polisar’s patchwork ditty “All I Want Is You”—-it’s essentially early Cat Stevens for hipster five-year-olds, with lots of cute couplets like “If I was a tree growing tall and green/All I’d want is you to shade me and be my leaves” and “If you were a wink, I’d be a nod/And if you were a seed I know I’d be a pod.” Adorable. A little annoying. Kinda like Juno.
Polisar recorded “All I Want Is You” in 1977, and the original interpretation is perfectly stripped-down: Just an acoustic guitar, some frollicking harmonica, and Polisar’s breezy, unserious vocals. Juno gave the song a second life, and now Polisar’s hoping for a third. The two-disc, 60-song (!) tribute album features three versions of “All I Want Is You.” Let’s take a listen!
The Vespers: “All I Want Is You”[audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/02/1.mp3]
This Nashville quartet takes a close-harmony approach here—-it’s half Brill Building pop, half country-fried indie folk in the Watson Twins vein. Things start softly with some lone vocals, but the song quickly builds to a crescendo of jugband instrumentation.
Most telling couplet: “If you were a river in the mountains tall/The rumble of your water would be my call.”
Noga Vilozny: “All I Want Is You” [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/02/2.mp3]
This version by the California singer/songwriter and artist avoids the original’s silly understatement, instead going for high-emotional bombast. At times, it suggests Cass Elliot‘s early ’70s material, when the singer walked away from sunshine pop and took a stab at blue-eyed soul. But it’s far too serious for what’s essentially a lark of a love song—-think Juno without all the pop-cultural zingers.
Most telling couplet: “If you were the wood, I’d be the fire/If you were the love, I’d be the desire.”
Barry Louis Polisar: “All I Want Is You (Redux)”[audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/02/3.mp3]
The thing about silly throwaway songs (read: 90 percent of the Moldy Peaches catalog) is they’ll make you smile on first listen and have you praying for early deafness on subsequent spins. Polisar clearly knows this, so he sends up his own song at the end of the tribute’s first disc, coming off as a cross between Les Claypool and a Scooby Doo villain (“If it weren’t for those meddling kids!”). There are few genres more earnest than children’s music, but thankfully, Polisar finds room for self-deprecation.
Most telling couplet: “If you were the ball, I’d be the chain/If you were the sink, well I’d be the drain.”