PJ Harvey does this thing which only the most brave artists do -- she lets her own pathos and frailty hang on the line like a flayed carcass. In guiding you deep into her subconscious, she willingly travels to awkward and painful places and in so doing, shows you that failure is necessary for radical transcendence.
Many friends who have gone on to become artists and musicians cite PJ Harvey's "4 Track Demos" as the album that motivated them to start recording their own songs. Her work offered a feeling of encouragement.
When I first heard PJ Harvey's music, I was about 13 years old and it was during a summer camp retreat called California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA), a public art program for kids in California. There was a talent show and I got up and played her song "Rid of Me" in front of the whole camp. I sang it with reckless abandon, because built into the structure of her song was a place for that kind of raw energy. I realized then that I could unleash a deep part of myself through music.
Entering the grown-up phase of being an artist, there is a side which no one likes to talk about, but which basically affects everything. It's the "management" side. A big chunk of your time is spent planning, rehearsing, discussing, preparing, emailing. On top of the living piece of the puzzle, it all just feels sometimes impossible to get into the sub-psyche, the place where poetry comes to life.
It's a historically chronic problem for artists. Picture Kafka working his day job at an insurance company, or Frida Kahlo's endless pain caused by a guard rail impaling her during a bus accident. Life creates artistic impediments.
But the present moment serves us yet another external pressure: Social media. There is so much buzzing paranoia circling around artists, that even ignoring it takes a kind of active effort. That is why her message of psychic freedom feels so necessary right now, and specifically for artists. She reminds us that cosmic poetry lies within our own heartbeats and encourages us to hear it and to share it.
A few years ago, Patti Smith said in a concert, talking of her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, that great artists make you want to make your own art.
The great message of PJ Harvey's art is this: Be messy. Be real. Fly hard and deep into the unknown and don't be afraid to deliver pure love from that raw place. In other words, be true to your wildness.
I've Laid with the Devil,
Cursed God Above,
To Bring You My Love.
Thank you Polly Jean.
All artwork by Rachel Mason