Chances are if I am dragging my feet on writing about an album than it’s hitting me with some kind of profound epiphany that I am not able to mentally process within the constraints and considerations of a timely post. You know how it is.
These are the albums that wind up being so important to me that sometimes I can’t write about them at all. Or I am able to get a little something up, but it has to be wrung out in choked, hard-earned sentences. This is obviously the later.
The other day, I was “having a conversation with” a friend about Fiona Apple’s latest, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. And when I say “having a conversation with” I am being polite because it was really more a fight. Not a nasty or heated argument, but we were quite adamant and righteously justified over our various opinions.
Apple is an important artist in my musical lexicon because she taught me how to be angry. (I’m thinking specifically of Tidal here. I was 15 at the time.) Or rather, she taught me that I wasn’t the only one in the world who was angry and that anger could serve as a functionary tool. It didn’t have to back you into a corner and fill you with shame. You could voice it. Even now, looking back on her MTV Awards speech, I never found her to be strange. I always thought she was incredibly brave and poignant.
Cut to present day.
I prepare to read through the interviews in anticipation of her new album (The first in 7 years!) and I am so excited and I am thinking that of all the records that I will enjoy this year, that this will surely be THE record. It will have to be the one. So imagine my surprise as the research commences and all I can think is, “Dear God, what a fucking weirdo.”
She is calling and texting reporters with odd questions at all hours of the day or night and carrying pool balls to Jimmy Fallon as he jitters and stumbles over questions, calling her pal and trying to assure that she doesn’t stalk offstage. She is buying parenting books and trying to “parent herself.” She hates LA, but she’s just living there until her dog dies. AND OMG HOW DID I NOT NOTICE THAT SHE IS BAT-SHIT CRAZY ALL THOSE YEARS AGO? (It might have something to do with being ages 15 to 23 when her albums were being released, which are not years that beget a ton of awareness, self or otherwise.)
And so yes, Apple splashing her vulnerability all over a bunch of reporters was… bothering me.
Then I get my hands on the album and it is… beautiful. Oh you guys, it is so gosh darn beautiful. I mean, I don’t have to tell you. You know this by now. And I’m having a hell of a hard time cementing these two people in my head: the one who is gushing out all these weird thoughts into media tape recorders and the one who is paring down her arrangements, roughing up her voice, and belting out these lyrics… even just on paper, without melodies, these lyrics have their own sort of unique rhythm. How can these two people be the same person? is the question that I am asking myself. And how can I be so in love with the artist and be so irritated with the person at the same exact time?
So in order to come to terms with my discomfort, I started nitpicking at the album. When I told my friend that I was having a bit of difficulty with it, I think that I started blah-blah’n about her lack of personal responsibility. She blames her mind, she needs a chaperon, she watches other people having fun and won’t participate, she just wants to lie across Jonathan Ames’s chest rather than trying to communicate. I got really heated about it too. I was like… genuinely fucking pissed at Fiona Apple for being such a wimp.
“Well, Lindsay,” my friend asked, “Do you have trouble reconciling the messier parts of yourself sometimes?”
That was the sound of a series of tiny, little explosions in my brain.
So far in 2012, I have endured a fairly messy break-up that cost me a couple of friendships to boot. I got myself into one of the trickest sublet situations that I’ve ever seen, asked to break the agreement after a month, and then spent the rest of the time hiding in a very tiny room. I got myself out, but I paid through the teeth for a new place. Today, I have to go to my grandfather’s funeral and deliver the eulogy. He’s the person who taught me to read, to have untold respect for language and the written word. We didn’t get to have the good-bye that I would have liked. And look, I say this not in the spirit of complaint. People have good years and bad. The bad are always the ones that I look back on with a sense of awe. Those are the ones that shake you up, change you, shape you in a million ways that you didn’t anticipate… that still doesn’t stop me from beating myself up occasionally over how I have reacted to these various events and my desire to remain a stoic rock of character is still pretty strong. (Give me a break, I was raised in the Northeast.)
But that doesn’t mean that I have the right to take my current frustrations out on Fiona Apple’s new album - a work of music that acquaints us with some of the messier particulars and highly chaotic work of being a sensitive and emotional human being.
After this conversation, I went back and listened to the album several times over without restless ears. The placement of both “Anything We Want” and “Hot Knife” at the end of the album, well that’s nothing but sheer hope and energy. The regeneration of potential. She might spend most of the album dwelling on (let’s face it, a Jonathan Ames) break-up, but towards the end. She’s awake again. She’s noticing new people. I suppose that is how it works most of the time. I’m certainly hoping that is how it will work out for me.
And yet, the most important thing that I take away is that… sometimes endings are just endings and they suck. Whatever was there is finished and that’s all there is to it. It’s okay that it did not ring with the perfect note in the way that you had wished.