Give Us Something Familiar, Something Similar

Apologies for this post and the reveal post for this week being late. I had a pretty busy weekend, participating in the 25 hour gaming marathon for Extra Life for the third year in a row. For those unfamiliar, it’s a charity that raises money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals, and the big event of the year is the gaming marathon. So from Saturday morning at 8am until Sunday at 8am, me and my closest friends played board games, party games, card games, outdoor games and a large amount of video games and raised quite a bit of money for our local children’s hospital in the process. So, I was unable to post on Friday because I was setting up for the event. I didn’t post on Saturday because I was busy participating in the event. I didn’t post on Sunday because I was recovering from the event. And now, it’s Monday and I need to get this out there so I don’t fall off schedule. I’ve already started listening to the next artist, But I want to wrap up my time with Fiona Apple before I get to far and forget my thoughts.

Things that I always need in my life include good jazzy, soulful music and great female vocals. I’m a sucker for both, but especially combined. Throw in a piano and I’m all set. It started, as it should, with the classics. I love Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Ella Fitzgerald is good too. When I first encountered Fiona Apple back in the Nineties, I saw the potential for her to be just as good. I picked up her first album (you know the story about that) and was not let down. She was so much better than her radio play indicated. Songs like Sleep to Dream and Never is a Promise belied both a vocal and emotional range that I had not been privy to in a while. Sure, artists like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion have amazing ranges, but I never got the emotional resonance from their music like I did from Fiona Apple.

With each subsequent album, I was equally impressed with how her song evolved without letting go of the fundamentals. She explore interpretations of jazz and blues, and somehow belted out such a powerful voice from such a tiny frame. I can’t even get my head around the physics of that.

Beyond her musical prowess though, there is the emotional understanding and honesty. A large percentage of vocalists, especially female, have a catalogue full of unrequited love songs and songs about how someone “done them wrong.” But Fiona Apple, while she has a bunch of those, also has an almost equal amount of “I done them wrong” songs. For every Shadowboxer, there is a counter like Criminal. She also has a decent amount of “I’m good with me” songs, like Extraordinary Machine. She speaks honestly to the imperfections in all of us. Relationships are messy things, and they can go wrong in many ways. I appreciate the equal voice she is able to give to both sides of the issue. There are songs of regret and songs of revenge. There are songs of to echo what it feels like when you’re not able to get off the couch and put down the Ben & Jerry’s. At the same time, there are songs of those “done with that” moments we go through when we realize that moving on is the best action. She showcases all sides, and does it with such simplicity and beauty that it looks like no response is actually wrong, they all just are. Sure, you can break things and get pissed, like in Window, or you can realize that things just didn’t work, like in Werewolf.

We need to be honest about relationships. I wrote extensively about the downfalls of my own personal relationships, and they run the gamut of these things. It’s not cookie cutter, it’s not clean. Sometimes someone is wrong. Sometimes someone just looks wrong but is right. Sometimes things just end. Sometimes things end in fury and chaos. I enjoy the fact that, no matter how it ends, there is probably a Fiona Apple song about it.

Also, I am still a sucker for female vocalists. I find that, in general, women have a more emotionally expressive singing presence than men. That’s not an absolute, but it is the majority. It comes down to our societal standards. Men, on the whole, are not taught to express their emotions. Speaking as a man, I can tell you this checks out. We’re not supposed to be emotional, let alone show them to anyone. It’s not a secret “man class” we take in school. It’s done through social engineering and negative reinforcement. As children, we’re mocked and ostracized by other boys for doing it. We’re called names, perceived as weak, or unable to make headway in early romantic attempts because we’re going against the pervasive stereotype of manliness. It’s been a while since I was a child, but this was how it was while I was growing up. I can hope it has changed, but I have my doubts. Conversely, it seems girls where not taught this. I can’t say for certain how this works, not having grown up as a girl. All I know is that when a woman sings, I can more easily sympathize with the emotions shes presenting than I can with a man. And I’m a little jealous of that. I suck at expressing emotions. Years of societal standards and a dash of mental illness have left me mostly unable to express how I feel. Hearing someone do it so effortlessly and publicly in a song is enviable. I can barely state how I feel, let alone make it into art or offer it up for public consumption. So, I rely on things like “this song coveys how I feel about this particular situation.” It’s proxy expression, but it works in a lot of cases. Rather than stumble over my own malformed words on the matter, someone like Fiona Apple has already built the framework and argument that can explain it with less fuss and confusion.

It is not the healthiest way, but it works. Part of me hopes I can learn a lesson from people like Fiona Apple so that I can someday find my own words rather than borrow someone else’s. Part of me is glad for the assistance and convenience. All of me still loves to listen to emotional music, to gain understanding while being entertained. Multi-tasking is good!


Mr. Tooduloo

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