A little while back, I blogged about how hard it is for me to find new music and how I’ve been trying to use new technology like Last.fm and Pandora to seek out fresh songs and artists. Then, a couple of Sundays ago, I learned about a young songwriter from a source not so close to the cutting edge: CBS News Sunday Morning.
I have been watching Sunday Morning for at least 25 years. Back when Charles Kuralt used to host it, it was as good as television can get. Since 1994, when Charles Osgood took over, the program has gradually lost some of its will and begun to resemble lesser TV newsmagazines. Stories have gotten shorter and topics shallower. There are many more quick promos and trivia and celebrities and puns, and the wacky Bill Geist has become the show’s featured star. Kuralt’s transcendent essays have been replaced by Osgood’s annoying verse and song.
However, Sunday Morning remains one of the few places on TV where the arts are celebrated at all. Any given installment might contain two or even three stories on painters, dancers, poets, filmmakers, sculptors, chefs, novelists, architects, comedians, actors, musicians or singers. It’s clear-headed, refreshing and civilizing content, perfect for this point in the week — as opposed to the roiling polarization of the political shows immediately following it on all of the networks. Considering our current world nightmare, we could use more arts and less bile.
The January 21st Sunday Morning, recorded to DVR, made it to our TV later that evening — after Chicago Bears pregame coverage, after their NFC Championship victory, and after dinner, some wine, and some snow shoveling. Okay, so I was asleep on the sofa for the whole thing. At the end, rather then simply delete it, Amy insisted we go back so I could see a singer-songwriter who had been profiled. Amy said that I would like her.
The story on Regina Spektor was amazing. Born in Moscow near the end of the Cold War, she moved at age 9 to the Bronx, leaving her piano behind. Adapting to life in her new home, she practiced on window sills and tables until finally discovering a piano in a neighborhood synagogue.
Classically trained, she also began composing her own original songs — very original songs. While deep and personal and introspective, her music is at the same time playful and joyous. Musing in “Fidelity” about intimate caution and the redirection of emotion into songs, she repeats a childish lilt like a nursery rhyme, toying with it and the pure fun of melody and breath. Regina Spektor sings and plays like a bird — without any artifice or self-consciousness. She is a true and natural talent in the land of American Idol.
Now 26, Ms. Spektor has a strong following, with over 5 million plays scrobbled at Last.fm. She’s appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but I have not seen her on Letterman. Her music is available on iTunes, and her official site is ReginaSpektor.com.