Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Nod To Nellie...

I'm a huge fan of Nellie McKay for all kinds of reasons--almost none having to do with her being a guest twice on "Talking Animals" (or saying incredibly kind things to me about the program; more on that later, perhaps)--and she somehow keeps providing more reasons to deepen my admiration for her.

Like her review of a new book on Doris Day, which ran in Sunday's edition of The New York Times--at least the second substantial book review Nellie has written for "the paper of record."

Let's back up a bit.

My first exposure to Nellie McKay was catching her on "Letterman" singing "The Dog Song"(early 2004?), and it was hard not to feel instantly enchanted. This was some days before she'd released her double-disc debut, "Get Away From Me," a winsome, wildly-impressive collection that went on to be named one of the 15 best albums of 2004 in the Village Voice poll of 800 critics nationwide.

Not bad.

Presented initially as the work of a 19-year-old before some suggestions surfaced that Nellie or someone in her camp had shaved a few years off her actual age--then and now, I ask: who cares?--it turned out she wasn't merely a musical wunderkind, but was also something of a precocious animal activist, including writing protest songs like "Columbia Is Bleeding," about the animal experimentation at Columbia University.

Not long after the release of "Get Away From Me," Nellie joined me on "Talking Animals" and proved to be a terrific guest--in our conversation as well as fielding listener questions--and things went at least that well a year and a half later, when she rejoined me on the show.

That second visit was on the eve of releasing her second album, "Pretty Little Head"--or so it seemed; in the wake of a dispute with her record company that led to her severing ties with that company, the album release was delayed about a year--and as she was preparing to make her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in "Threepenny Opera," alongside Alan Cumming & Edie Falco.

Again, not bad.

This is obviously a very bright, immensely gifted woman--and then last March, as if she needed to do anything to underline that impression, Nellie published a book review (of Karen Schoemer's "Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With '50s Pop Music") in The New York Times. It was a wonderful piece--probing, smart, incisive, and certainly didn't pull any punches.

She did it again Sunday, weighing in on "Considering Doris Day," a new examination of the life & career of the singer, actress and animal advocate--a major influence on Nellie--authored by Tom Santopietro.

The review is notable for both its sweep and depth--to those of us pretty familiar with Nellie and her work, it's a given that she's steeped in all things Day, but Nellie writes here with a knowledge and authority, an acute understanding and fierce intelligence that's downright preternatural for someone who, no matter how you slice it, is still in her 20s.

To note out that she's wise--or gifted--beyond her years is, at this point, woefully obvious, akin to suggesting things aren't going well in Iraq.

And she can certainly teach an old dog new tricks: At one point in the review, she chides Santopietro for repeatedly referring to Doris Day as an "animal lover," a term she finds both a misnomer and condescending, at least when applied to someone like Day, who's responsible for so many seismic shifts in the animal welfare landscape.

When I read the review, I was in the middle of preparing an announcement for "Talking Animals" that referred to a forthcoming guest as an "animal lover."

I changed it.

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