“Unpacking Fiona Apple Discourse from over the Years (‘Cause He**, She Asked for it)”

I’m writing this to you as someone who’s 33 and so has seen his share of changes in music, yeah, but even more than that, music CULTURE, music consumption formats, tones of voice used when discussing music (things have become very placid and with the extinction of TV as a discussion setting, anger can be conveyed with just a STARE and maybe some monosyllabics). I come from the era of Matt Pinfield, the chesty east coast MTV VJ who didn’t seem to HAVE a normal speaking volume, along with who could forget (and this is almost before my time) “Kennedy,” the female VJ everyone “loved to hate.” Now, my family growing up was sarcastic, ready-to-do-battle-by-way-of-black-humor people, so it didn’t phase me this readily wielded idea that somebody who was so valuable could also cause so much ire and rancor.
But then, that’s just how things were, that was the mindset — “alternative.” Alternative rock brought a lot of good things to music, most thankfully the extinction of Van Halen and all things Van Halen-like (which at the risk of sounding reductive I’ll just consolidate into the category of “rock songs that are really disgusting) [1]. For the first time that I’m aware of, lead singers of major bands were coming out and making political statements that upset the white bourgeois, whether such a thing even exists anymore or is simply a myth — Eddie Vedder would scrawl “Pro-choice” on his arm at a concert and Kurt Cobain would willingly be interviewed by gay magazines.
Granted, with this did come some snobbery too: I think Extreme is wrongly debased as “schlock rock” by Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, although they can be perhaps a tad showy. Also, people generally think of the ‘90s as a period of benign culture, but keep in mind also this was the decade when Nancy Kerrigan saw firsthand the horrors of humanity when she was brutally beaten (by a man conspiracy theorists claim to have been connected to her figure skating rival Tonya Harding), only to see herself made fun of on some show (I think it was SNL but don’t want to say for sure), for the way she was wailing there, lying on the ground. As is the case with any time, there were people who would try to appeal to the low feelings in us in order to get rich and what is Van Halen but just that?
I’m writing this today about Fiona Apple… I’ll admit it… as a reaction to something I saw on Vinyl Me, Please. I mean these guys wouldn’t bother me half so much if they weren’t such LOUD MOUTHS (and more importantly if they didn’t endorse Gorillaz, an entity this site places somewhere around the respectability level of that nondescript orange goo coagulating down in the corner of your kitchen). And I’ll admit it: I didn’t get this whole “women’s march” thing. I mean, was it just like a march for women? So is it existential? Why didn’t they call it the “march for reproductive rights?” Could it be because abortion is already legal? Why didn’t they call it the “march for equal representation for women in sports”? Could it be because American women already thoroughly dominate international sporting events?
Anyway, it certainly seems chic to suck up to “women” these days (I’ve even heard one lady claim she doesn’t want to be called a “girl” anymore, this despite the fact that she was hanging out in a bar, apparently doing some official sociological experiment for the government or something). Look, I’m not even going to fu**ing REPEAT what I saw on Vinyl Me, Please: I’m actually operating under the wishful premise that I actually didn’t see it, that I actually imagined it, and I refuse to dirty my own site with this miserable brand of sucking-up, of constant brandishing of the claim that white men are evil (I could go into examples here but won’t)… but it was something along the lines of oh Fiona Apple is so vulnerable, fragile and pure.
Umm, THIS IS A GIRL WHO APPEARED THREE-QUARTERS NUDE FOR HER ENTIRE FIRST VIDEO ON MTV. I would not classify her as a pure little Jane Austen character. And not to say she necessarily knew what she was DOING (a notion I in fact find highly unlikely)… but I mean just look at the trajectory of her career. Vinyl Me, Please is selling Tidal (the album that gave us “Criminal,” the naked video and which lyrically explores the obscure, byzantine theme of… fu**ing), presumably because it’s the highest selling album by the artist, it contains the MTV single (her next album not only had no hit single but had a title that was like 50 words long or something), but in no way is Tidal her best album. In fact it’s eclipsed by each of her last two: Extraordinary Machine which toyed with lyrical metaphor while flanking the singular melodic achievement “O Sailor” and The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do which is all but completely self-produced.
Tidal, though, is her ANGRIEST album, which offers a nice platform on which to discuss the culture of today in its difference even from the culture of last decade, which brought us the Onion headline “Fiona Apple Song Reminds Girl to Be Depressed.” [3] One side, then, ingratiates Apple for her apparent catharsis (or more likely just her FAME, sort of a tree falling in the forest at the million-man-march analogous), the other ascribes to the tried and true Cake ethos of “Shut the fu** up / Learn to buck up”… to be honest I think they’re both wrong, but give one credit for presaging its own RELATIVE appropriateness by envisioning the other. Also, one is wronger than the other, and I’ll tell you why.
There are two reasons. One has to do with the complexity of the human mind and its need to struggle. [4] Alanis Morissette, another great diva from the ‘90s, once said “Wear it out / The way a three year old would do / Melt it down / You’re gonna have to eventually anyway / The fire trucks are coming up around the bend”. The fact is, we’re all burning fires, at least those of us who choose creative avenues in life: we have something we need to express which is indefinable, which is postmodern sometimes in the sense of lacking unity, and sometimes in order to FIND just what it is we want to express we HAVE to get naked on MTV, we have to invite and incite criticism with a controversial Grammy speech (which mind you not only do I not reject to but I don’t think should have even been controversial… I mean she wasn’t attacking any person, just large companies… it’s like a Robin Hood stealing from the rich) — so much of life is transformation, and that’s the sort of thing that’s undervalued when you get into claiming that it’s an atrocity that somebody has to go through emotional pain.
The other is that ideally, in so far as we’re talking about this broad in any realm other than barbaric brutishness (lets we devolve into a Van Halen-type species), there is, gasp, a little semblance of something called ARTISTIC credibility underneath all this. Uh, this just in: NOBODY IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WHO HAD EVER TRULY IMBIBED WHAT IT’S LIKE TO ADMINISTER, OBSERVE OR UNDERSTAND TRUE ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY WOULD EVER HAVE THE UNMITIGATED AUDACITY TO CLAIM THAT THERE IS ANYTHING BETTER ON EARTH other than ARISTIC CREDIBILITY. The result precludes the process. You live, you learn. There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, even if it only looks like… that nondescript coagulating orange goo in the corner of your apartment.
[1] The Bloodhound Gang came along later but technically they were new wave revival, or something… whatever they were they weren’t rock, which nobody would deny of Van Halen for all their quirks.
[2] Another interesting aspect is that for as all-encompassing as this era was supposed to have been, it is also a camp which seems to have by and large rejected Primus who was likely hurt by being from LA and not Seattle.
[3] http://www.theonion.com/article/fiona-apple-song-reminds-girl-to-be-depressed-5321.
[4] There’s a great line about this in Everett True’s Nirvana: the Biography.

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