Les Anaïs

Brooklyn Bridge is the first track on Anaïs Mitchell’s self-titled 2022 album.

You can listen to it here.

I’ve listened to the song a dozen times today, since it algorithmically showed up in Spotify’s Discover Weekly, sandwiched between In Your Circle (by Aaron Percy and judah mayowa) and Indiana (by Adrianne Lenker).

Somehow, on this day, it scratches what’s itching me. The lyrics aren’t profound — the heart is the phrase “everything I want,” which is sung 36 times — but it builds and dips and hangs together and, well, it’s just delicious.

Be sure to listen to this live recorded version, and this performance at Les Etoiles Paris from late 2022, which is perhaps my favourite.

Speaking of people named Anaïs and Paris (you had to see that coming), I am reminded of the time, I was confounded by (and then redeemed from) the task of setting a line from an Anaïs Nin’s diary:

In Paris, when entering a room, everyone pays attention, seeks to make you feel welcome, to enter into conversation, is curious, responsive. Here it seems everyone is pretending not to see, hear, or look too intently.

What a lovely line that is, that.

Anaïs Nin, like Anais Mitchell, was a polymath.

Mitchell, for example, developed the Broadway show Hadestown, about which she wrote a book.

Nin was a “diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories and erotica,” but what is often left out of her biography is that she was a letterpress printer. From The Intimate Books of Anaïs Nin – Diarist as Letterpress Printer, by Emily Larned:

What is less known about Nin is that she was a habitual self-publisher. Throughout her life, she would continuously, obsessively republish a text once it had fallen out of print, creating many different books from one text. The poet and printer Alan Loney distinguishes between the words “text” and “book.” Although the terms are often used interchangeably in English, an author’s text (her words) is mutable of form. This slippery, shape-shifting text is contrasted with the particular material specificities of a physical book. It is these nontextual qualities—the paper, the type, the margins, the size and shape—Loney explains, that he found so compelling. Today when a contemporary reader finds a book by Nin, it is often a slim, inexpensive paperback printed on cheap paper, with a glossy, ill-designed cover strewn with garish colors and art deco type. How different this reading experience is from hovering over the dark, hushed, carefully made letterpress editions produced by Nin’s own hands.

From Nin’s own words, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944:

The relationship to handcraft is a beautiful one. You are related bodily to a solid block of metal letters, to the weight of the trays, to the adroitness of spacing, to the tempo and temper of the machine. You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness.

You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing. You can touch the page you wrote. We exult in what we master and discover. Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved.

Oh my that’s it, exactly it.

Anaïs Mitchell was, as you might imagine, named after Anaïs Nin; from SPIN:

Because she is my namesake, I read all the diaries and even the erotica when I was quite young. I just wanted to find out what she was about, and I had very little actual life experience with which to understand what she was writing about. I adore Anaïs Nin’s writing. I find it so delicate and brave and when I think about how extraordinary it was, her commitment to her art and to the life experience she was determined to go out and get (including her many affairs), it’s quite overwhelming. She was so wildly powerful and also so vulnerable.

From the bridge of Brooklyn Bridge:

I wanna be someone
Wanna be one in a million
I wanna be the one you want
I wanna be one of a kind
I wanna be once in a lifetime
Wanna be the one you ride beside

That’s it too.


Vivian's picture
Vivian on May 24, 2024 - 08:50 Permalink

Simple and powerful song. Thanks for the recommendation.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on May 29, 2024 - 16:24 Permalink

I think I might recognize the itch at least partially: Her voice and vocal style remind me that we both used to like Jane Sibbery.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on May 29, 2024 - 19:25 Permalink

I don't suppose people have ever likened Nin to Robert Pirsig, of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or vice versa, but that's what the excerpt made me think of. I'm hoping this isn't just an illustration of how little or poorly I've read.