I know many of you are looking for tips on the spiritual life during our time of lockdown. This isn’t it. Sorry. It is from America Magazine, afterall. Did you really expect that?
Before I begin, I would just like to qualify that this blog post has really nothing to do with Fiona Apple or her music. To tell you the truth, I actually think she’s got a great voice. Not a huge fan of Fetch the Bolt Cutters (actually, not a fan at all) and I don’t spend a lot of time listening to her other tunes, but if I had to rate her voice, I’d say it’s pretty good.
So, what is this blog post about? The complete lameness of America Magazine. What else? I mean, this title is the stupidest thing I might have seen from them yet. I’m snipping a lot of this because, again, it’s not really about Apple.
April 28, 2020
Really? I thought we might need God and his infinite mercy but, oh, OK. I mean, he might as well have said “We need the soundtrack of Hamilton to survive!” It makes every bit as much sense as what a supposedly Catholic magazine actually did post.
<snipping a lot>
It also never quite relaxes from that tense, coiled, rackety head space. If Apple’s music has never been exactly easy to put on in the background—as with Broadway cast albums or a lot of hip-hop, I find I need to listen closely to fully enjoy it—it amply rewards the trouble. And now that we’re all in an indefinite pandemic lockdown, all-or-nothing music like this may have arrived at precisely the right moment.
Oh, sorry. I guess Hamilton wouldn’t do after all. All or nothing music? It ain’t Les Miserables, dude. It’s Fiona Apple. The usual angsty rebel music. Not exactly good for the soul. Not exactly “help your fellow American” music either. It’s pretty much “me, myself and I” music.
Apple has never shied from sonic or formal ambition before, but here she has broken her songcraft down to its molecular level. Many of the songs here sound like schoolyard chants or nursery rhymes that have grown into homemade chorales, like the devilishly catchy “Relay,” which contains this uncomfortable pearl of insight: “Evil is a relay sport/ Where the one who’s burnt turns to pass the torch.” Though we hear some of her distinctively chiming or churning piano figures, “Fetch” is dominated, almost to a fault, by percussion and vocals.
And this little paragraph pretty much shows how much America Magazine authors like to hear themselves talk. How again is this what we need to make it through the economy being trashed, people dying, and most of us being traumatized? Oh yeah, it doesn’t.
What comes across, as ever but more than ever, is Apple’s unbiddable individuality—the kind that often gets dismissively coded in women as “feisty” (or worse), but which is usually admired in men as principled stubbornness, an inability to suffer fools. When she defiantly intones, in “Under the Table,” “Kick me under the table all you want/ I won’t shut up,” she is both conjuring a recognizable dinner-party awkwardness and laying down a marker, a line she won’t cross—and that we had better not either. Lest this all sound impossibly earnest, she also utters a priceless line that could have been written by Mae West: “Cookie, don’t push me.”
Hey, I’m feisty. I wouldn’t dismiss this stupid review for that. But don’t you love a guy who’s giving a review from a very Mae West point of view? Again, quite typical of America.
Elsewhere her lyrics reach beyond her usual frankness to new levels of concision and narrative bite. The traffic-stopping “For Her” is in many ways the album’s showpiece; in a Broadway musical it would be the 11 o’clock number. Using a swarm of sing-songy multitracked vocals, Apple outlines the perfidy of a Weinstein-like Hollywood rake who has been “treating his wife like less than a guest” and who is known for “never showing weakness unless it’s awards season.” Then she unnervingly shifts gears from third-person sympathy for his other victims to a blistering confrontation over her own assault. It’s a #MeToo testimony with a vengeance, and it is as bracing, enraging and sad as it sounds.
To clarify his point, in case you didn’t know, Fiona Apple was raped on her way home from school when she was 12, long before aspirations of fame. She’s got some issues and really is a child of the 90s. She’s broken, she’s damaged, and quite frankly, nobody has shown her the way to God. She’s not what we need now. We’re the kind of people she needs, the kind who can show the way, because she hasn’t really found it yet.
<snip a bunch more attempts at existential babble>
And there you have it, ladies and gents. The usual hollow drivel wrapped up in an artsy bow from America Magazine. It’s not the example of the ever trusting, ever determined saints of old who should be our examples of how to get through this. It’s not St. Catherine of Siena or St. Charles Borromeo. It’s not God’s Mercy. It’s not our guardian angels. It’s just Fiona Apple’s music.
So let’s do what Catholics do, let’s be the body of Christ. Let’s pray for each other and Fiona, and let’s embrace the way to truly survive this world.