For 25 years Nels Cline dreamed of making the Lovers Album, an orchestrated portrait of the shadings on love’s spectrum from yearning to euphoria to regret. A mix of jazz standards, film music, rock songs and his own compositions. When it was released on Blue Note in 2016 it concluded with “The Bond”, composed for his wife, giving the project strength and clarity: love throughout marriage will be tested by many shadings of mood but will endure, a bond, unbreakable.
I had a conversation with Nels in 2013 when Wilco were performing two concerts at the Sydney Opera House. And while he was still dreaming about making the album, that conversation started me dreaming about making a special edition notebook, an homage to Lovers. He mentioned some of the songs that he was considering arranging for the album, and the reference that stayed with me, that shaped the concept for the notebook, was the instrumental music “The Search for Cat”, the closing sequence of Breakfast at Tiffanys.
Nels defined the album as mood music. In the 1950s and 1960s it was a genre riddled with kitsch: albums of syrupy string music to study by, read by, dine by, drink cocktails to, to put you to sleep, or simply “music to live by”. There’s no contemporary equivalent. The closest thing is ‘mood’ apps but they’re psychological not cultural, combining graphics and sounds to reframe negative moods, to induce calm and contentment.
By recording this album with Blue Note Nels’s workings of popular songs are in the orbit of great jazz studies of sentimentally popular music. Dave Brubeck’s Dave Digs Disney. John Coltrane’s version of “My Favourite Things” from the Sound of Music. Duke Ellington’s sublime study of the soundtrack to Mary Poppins. But I thought about another interpretation. Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue isn’t mood music but it does create a phenomenally sensual atmosphere. And I thought about Max Richter’s Sleep, a complex study of sleeping and waking consciousness and lullabies. By concentrating on “The Search for Cat” I could consider the intent of the whole Lovers album as sonically inspiring you to cherish those you love. And the book would be a cherished token.
Breakfast at Tiffanys wasn’t product placement as we think of it today. Truman Capote’s book didn’t seek the marketing input of Tiffanys. When the movie came to be shot an arrangement was made that sequences could be filmed in and around the New York store in exchange for Audrey Hepburn modelling jewellery that Tiffanys could then use in marketing. In retrospect, what a deal for Tiffanys!.Audrey Hepburn’s sweetness and shining spirit, no matter the dark subject matter of the movie, and her delicate beauty giving warmth to the severe lines of the Givenchy couture and chandelier bling of the diamond-encrusted baubles she wears, has made her forever Tiffany’s spirit creature.Through her Tiffanys has been able to present luxury as a life force
I’ve always seen the moral of the movie in the words of the Beatles, “money can’t buy you love”. Desperate to find refuge within a luxurious coccoon she finds that refuge instead with a stray cat she’s taken in, and George Peppard, trying his luck as a writer, both of whom love her for herself. The token that symbolises that love is a tin ring, the prize inside a cheap box of Crackerjacks, molasses-flavoured, caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts. They make that ring special by taking it to Tiffanys to be engraved.
I thought about a Lovers book that would be the equivalent of that engraving, elevating it to a loving gift. It wouldn’t be a boxed set kind of thing. The music would live a separate life as an album, CD or download. The book would add to it.
It would have Nels’s liner notes, and the lyrics to the songs that he considers crucial, even though the album is wholly instrumental. And more of Angela de Cristofaro’s beautiful drawings, different versions of the jewelled dagger being plunged through the heart of the Great American Songbook on the album cover.
The book has a stainless steel engraved spine, shellacked covers (an homage to records) and sunshine yellow end pages.
It’s to be a journal and an album, a guest book, a record of birthdays and family recipes. Something to paste birthday cards and polariod photos of your dogs and cats into.
And as a reference to the mood music albums of the 1950s and 1960s a few recipes for cocktails and canapés so that you can host your own version of a party with the kind of goofy abandon as the one in Breakfast at Tiffanys.