Vanessa Daou in RealAudio!

From the "Dear John Coltrane" CD:


From the "Zipless" CD

Alcestis on the Poetry Circuit
The Long Tunnel of Wanting You

"If you don't honor your ancestors, you're committing a kind of suicide"
--Sam Sheppard (playwright)

Vanessa Daou was kicking around her apartment one day this January listening to jazz great John Coltrane. She had heard his music before, but had never really heard it. At least, not like this. She went into the next room and exclaimed to her husband and creative partner, Peter, "I get it. I understand." Like an eighth grader who just clicked in with algebra, or one of those special whistles only a canine can hear, she had an epiphany, an intensely personal moment of clarity. Six months later, she and Peter were recording. On September 1st "Dear John Coltrane"--the Daou's fifth album--hit the record stores.

"Something in me felt that I understood what he was communicating, so in a way it was my attempt to communicate in my own words, what he was about," Daou said while sipping a cappuccino at a local neighborhood haunt. "It was a personal exploration of his life and purpose. Trying to understand and interpret his life and vision and struggle."

The end result is an album of mesmerizing poetic lyrics--simultaneously painful, informative, and inspiring, with a contemporary social commentary chaser. The lyrics are supported--and in many ways nurtured--by the music married to them. Listening to the entire CD straight through left me punch drunk with a double-dose of pleasure and melancholy.

(Lyrics from "Deviate")
"I open the pages of your life and read the first lines/Your life reads like a deviants manual and I learn something about mine/I have lived and breathed you/Dug the earth beneath you/In my need to reach you/I have learned your secret. Art is not what we think it is at all/It's not in gold frames on white walls/Music is not what we hear in polished halls/It's not faceless bands piped into malls"

In the six months from conception to completion Daou read countless Coltrane biographies, listened to every CD she could get her hands on and channeled inspiration from jazz aficionado Peter, as well as some less conventional sources. "Last year I discovered Joseph Cornell who is now my ultimate artist," Daou said. "He influenced me visually when I was thinking of this album. It was in my mind. Also, I was influenced by Paul Davies' "The Mind of God" which talks a lot about universal concepts."

If you haven't picked up on it yet, this is not some pre-packaged bullshit intended to give teenage boys hard-ons and their female counterparts, multi-colored midriff fashion tips. The shallow need not apply, 'cause you're not gonna get it. For the intellectually and artistically challenged the Daou's music is still a good fit if you want to make love or just go for a straight out good fuckin'. The rhythmic beats have an omnipresent sensual, erotic quality that could turn on Bob Dole, sans Viagra.

The common thread in the Daou's previous efforts is the literary sexual content of Vanessa's lyrics. In 1994 they released Zipless, which is a combination of Vanessa's smooth and secure voice, with author--and Peter's aunt--Erica Jong's poetry.

"Zipless is like her definitive record," Peter Daou says while sitting at the piano in their apartment. A framed picture of John Coltrane with the tag line "mellow mood" is centered over the piano. "Every artist has a record that defines who they are. With Zipless, she was on VH1, The Box, all over the place. That was a kind of pivotal year for her career as far as breaking out into the mainstream."

Zipless was released by MCA to widespread critical acclaim and five years later serves as a prime example of the best and worst thing ever to happen to Vanessa Daou: She came of age creatively in a society largely bereft of taste. She is the flip side of Madonna, exploring sexual boundaries as a provocateur, yet without an exploitative bent that would have her standing naked on the side of the road looking to get picked up and bought for fifty bucks (see Sex book) and placed like a tasty hors d'oeuvre on coffee tables across the country. The fact that more people--record sales--haven't "gotten it" doesn't seem to faze her.

"It's so completely arbitrary, the numbers people impose on you," she starts to explain as Peter finishes her sentiment. "But that's all people care about. When records are discussed on television, often, you'll hear 'the platinum selling whatever'," Peter says emphatically. "Who cares if it sold platinum? What does that have to do with the taste of the consumer of music? Does that affect anything? It's really just the hype created about how to present the music."

Vanessa picks up where Peter left off without missing a beat. "I mean look at Van Gogh. Here's a guy who simply made paintings to make pretty pictures to put on people's walls. He painted flowers. He wanted to paint nice things. At the same time the poor guy died never knowing that his paintings would one day sell for ten million dollars," Vanessa says with a subtle smile. "So if you learn from history and don't fall into traps that other artists have fallen into, I think you'll really be able to survive and thrive in your own art and that's what I've been trying to do."

The conversation continues as Vanessa and Peter weave in and out of each other like a comfortable sweater. They met nearly twelve years ago when Vanessa was studying art at Columbia University and Peter was a philosophy major at NYU. Vanessa--a friend of Peter's sister--was sitting for a painting the day they met. "The first thing I said to her was 'you have a nice voice.'
"I thought it was some kind of pickup line," Vanessa recalls.

Later that night they went to see "The Princess Bride." Vanessa laughed hysterically throughout the entire movie and could be heard over the rest of the audience. "I'm sitting there thinking, 'man my sister really fucked up this time'," Peter jokingly recalls. Later that night, he played the piano for her. A week later they were in love. Two weeks after that they talked marriage and within a few months their union was official. From the day they met, they have never spent a night apart.

After leaving our third meeting, the subway is whistling through station after station filled with advertisements and marketing ploys to get us to buy this record or see that movie. I'm reading the newspaper, which has an article speaking of the disappointing 250,000 plus sales of Puff Daddy's latest release, "Forever." It made me think of Van Gogh, Vanessa Daou, and the shit which plasters the airways and fills the CD changers of this country's youth. "Maybe these kids couldn't stay up late enough to see Puffy expose himself as a straight up fraud a few years ago on Saturday Night Live?" That's what I'd be saying to myself if I possessed a true musical gift.

The Daou's are not bitter people whatsoever. Quite the opposite. They're just extremely grateful for the God-given gifts they can share with the world. It's not just about the music and lyrics, which effuse a soul-mated quality. It's the ideas being generated and the roots from which they're spawned, inspiration and collaboration.

"Everything revolves around the music we make together," Vanessa concludes.


visit Vanessa's web site:



Sean Pamphilon

Michael Halsband, Jim Sonzero,
Benoit, Michael Lavine

Audio courtesy of:
Daou Music /
Oxygen Music Works