Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trouble Me

Trouble Me (from the 10,000 Maniacs albums Blind Man's Zoo and Unplugged)

Words:

Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.
Trouble me on the days when you feel spent.
Why let your shoulders bend underneath this burden when my back is sturdy and strong?
Trouble me.

Speak to me, don't mislead me, the calm I feel means a storm is swelling;
There's no telling where it starts or how it ends.
Speak to me, why are you building this thick brick wall to defend me when your silence is my greatest fear?
Why let your shoulders bend underneath this burden when my back is sturdy and strong?
Speak to me.

Let me have a look inside these eyes while I'm learning.
Please don't hide them just because of tears.
Let me send you off to sleep with a "There, there, now stop your turning and tossing."
Let me know where the hurt is and how to heal.

Spare me? Don't spare me anything troubling.

Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.
Speak to me and let our words build a shelter from the storm.
Lastly, let me know what I can mend.
There's more, honestly, than my sweet friend, you can see.
Trust is what I'm offering if you trouble me.


If you read any article written by any journalist about Natalie Merchant's musical career, you will inevitably read a line that sounds something like this: "Merchant is known for writing songs about serious topics such as child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, poverty and war." There is certainly no disputing that fact, but there is another topic that Natalie writes about that never seems to be mentioned in these inventories: comfort.

I love the songs Natalie has written about child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, poverty and war. Obviously I'm far from alone in that feeling. And I suppose, indirectly perhaps, that those songs do serve to comfort people affected by those problems. When a struggling single mother hears the song "Dust Bowl" then perhaps she feels less alone, if only for a moment.

But there is a brand of songs that Natalie writes that are broader in scope. They are songs that seem to be written expressly for the purpose of bringing comfort to anyone who needs it. Which is to say, everyone. Songs like "Life Is Sweet" and "Break Your Heart," among many others, fall into this category. I would make the argument that "Trouble Me" is the first song of this brand in Natalie's career.

There are so many things I love about the lyrics to this song. The words are simple, straightforward and unadorned. I feel like the song serves two purposes, in a way. When you listen to the song, you can feel like the words are being said to you; a reminder that there are people in the world, people in your life, who care about what you're feeling and whose backs are indeed sturdy and strong enough to help you shoulder your burdens.

On the other hand, this song helps us fill the need we all have to express our offer of comfort to the people we love. I don't know about you, but I know I sometimes struggle to put into words my desire to be there for someone I love. No matter what the motivation in your heart is, after awhile phrases like "I'm here for you" and the like just sound like hollow platitudes, devoid of any real meaning. While the words to "Trouble Me" are simple, they are profound. A friend once gave me a framed photo of the two of us as a gift. On the back of the photo the lyrics to "Trouble Me" were written. I was deeply touched (and for the record, that was well before I was a serious Natalie listener/nerd.)

One thing, though, that I always wonder about with regard to this song: Why does she never play it live anymore? I've seen her in concert 4 times and she's never played it. That's not all that astonishing given the fact that it's only 4 concerts out of the hundreds she's performed since splitting from the Maniacs, but I've read tons of reviews of Natalie's shows and not once has anyone ever mentioned her playing this song. It leads to me wonder, Does she not like this song anymore? It's difficult for me to fathom such a thing. How could she possibly feel that way? I reject this idea and instead choose to create my own mythology. It goes something like this: The song is just too personal, it stirs up too much emotion for her to perform it live. If she even attempts it, she's swept away in a river of her own tears, like Alice in Wonderland.

Wow. That was terrible mythology.

Today, I will let Natalie have the last word about this lovely song:

"I think Trouble Me is the most direct (song on Blind Man's Zoo.) And I don't want people to believe it's a song that only concerns young lovers. I think that love shouldn't be so exclusive. It shouldn't be hoarded."*

*Melody Maker - May 1989

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Skin

My Skin (from the album Ophelia)

Take a look at my body, look at my hands
there's so much here that I don't understand
Your face saving promises, whispered like prayers
I don't need them, I don't need them

I've been treated so wrong, I've been treated so long
as if I'm becoming untouchable

Contempt loves the silence, it thrives in the dark
with fine winding tendrils that strangle the heart
They say that promises sweeten the blow
but I don't need them, no I don't need them

I've been treated so wrong, I've been treated so long
as if I'm becoming untouchable

I'm a slow dying flower, frost killing hour
the sweet turning sour and untouchable

O, I need the darkness
the sweetness, the sadness
the weakness, I need this

I need a lullaby, a kiss goodnight
angel sweet, love of my life
O, I need this

Do you remember the way that you touched me before
all the trembling sweetness I loved and adored?
Your face saving promises, whispered like prayers
I don't need them, no I don't need them

O, I need the darkness
the sweetness, the sadness
the weakness, I need this

I need a lullaby, a kiss goodnight
angel sweet, love of my life
I need this

Is it dark enough? can you see me?
do you want me? can you reach me?
or I'm leaving

You better shut your mouth, hold your breath
kiss me now, you'll catch your death
O, I mean this



So here it is. The first song of many to be delved into a little bit deeper. I chose My Skin as the first song for discussion not just because I love it but because I've come to believe it might actually be Natalie's most popular song. I know, I know, you think this sounds crazy. What about Wonder you say. What about Kind and Generous? Carnival? All very, very popular and certainly more well-known by the masses than this little gem. But if you doubt me on this, I suggest you do the following: go to Youtube, enter the search words “Natalie Merchant” and just see what comes up. What you will find is that a good 70% of the videos that come up are videos people have made using the song My Skin. In fact, to aid in proving my point, just now I searched the words “Natalie Merchant My Skin” on Youtube and there were 1,120 search results. Sometimes it's someone's personal cover rendition of the song (a bold decision indeed.) More often than not, though, these videos consist of odd mash-up scenes of characters from the creator's favorite movies or TV shows, usually romantic couplings, and My Skin plays in the background.

In the spirit of candor, I must say...I abhor these videos.

My Skin is a top ten Natalie Merchant tune for me and listening to it serve as the musical score to scenes of vapid teenage vampire romance is enough to make me ill. I know that music is in its very essence interpretive, though, so I'm willing to at least concede the fact that I appreciate that people recognize the beauty and worthiness of this song.

So what makes My Skin so good? Namely, everything. Not to put too fine a point on it. Let's start with the music. In my opinion (and for the record, this is the last time I'll be using the phrase “in my opinion” on this blog because it seems a bit redundant - it is called Annie's Natalie Merchant Blog after all) the piano playing on this song is as good and maybe better than any other song Natalie has recorded. Here is what Natalie has said on the subject:

“On the song My Skin, I like hearing my piano working: this hulking piece of wood with metal strings, hammers hitting, things reverberating and squeaking and cracking. I like that we didn't try to cover up those sounds, because that's what the instrument is about.”*

The reverberation is the thing I notice most and the density of that sounds feels like such a natural companion to the weight of the words. Oh yes...the words. I always thought the words were beautiful, but it wasn't until I discovered what inspired the lyrics that I was able to fully appreciate them. Here is another quote from Natalie:

“My Skin...was inspired by a friend of mine who had written a screenplay about a woman who was dying of cancer, and her husband could only see her as a victim of disease, and he couldn't really see her as the woman he loved, and was attracted to, anymore. And in the screenplay, she's just desperate for him to make love to her one more time before she dies, so she can feel like a woman again.”**


If that premise doesn't spark any emotion for you, there is a reasonable chance you are dead. This is the same information that makes it difficult for me to accept this song being played in Youtube videos with titles like, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – My Skin” (not making that up.) If Natalie's intention was to convey the intense, painful and intimate feelings of a person trapped in the situation she describes in the above quote, she certainly succeeded. If she also intended to break our hearts in the process, I dare say that was a success too. She sings the song in a voice that is fractured, even broken at times and this only adds to the beauty and devastating sadness of the song.

So those are my thoughts. What about you?

*Keyboard Magazine – February 1999
**All Things Considered – August 1998

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What, Why, How and Who

WHAT:

A blog that takes a song-by-song look at the musical career of one Natalie A. Merchant.

WHY:

I've thought about starting a blog for ages but held back because I could never quite land on a topic that I thought would consistently amuse me and/or have the potential to amuse others. Many of my most passionate conversations and musings are about music, so I knew I wanted to write about that subject. But I wanted something methodical, something I could organize into a specific format. My favorite music maker is Natalie Merchant and I've listened to just about every piece of recorded music she's made and for once in my life, it seems that something (or someone, in this case) that I like is actually quite well-known and appreciated by others. So here it is - Annie's Natalie Merchant Compendium Blog.

HOW:

As mentioned above, I intend on going song-by-song through the entire Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs catalogue, with the exception of the following: B-sides, collaborations with others artists, and anything pre-Wishing Chair. I may occasionally break this rule, but I don't plan to often. My goal is to post at least one update per week one update every other week, one to three songs per blog. I intend on including lyrics, my personal thoughts on the songs and where possible, a quote or two of Natalie speaking about the song in question. Currently, my idea is to go about the song selection process totally randomly. I want to keep you on your toes.

WHO:

My name is Annie, if you didn't catch that already. I'm in my late twenties, I live in California in an entirely too-small apartment with my handsome cat and two small, furry husbands. Wait...strike that, reverse it. Writing a blog might turn out to be the most conventional thing I've ever done in my life, but even if it's a success, I don't plan on converting.

I will measure the success of this blog based on two things: 1) Is anyone reading it? and 2) Am I having fun? If the answer to number one is yes, then I'm sure the answer to number two will be yes as well. So please, oh prettiest please, share your comments. I would love to hear your thoughts, insights and personal feelings about the songs of this most gifted songwriter and musician. And if you don't feel like doing that, then please at least say hey so I know you're out there.

Thanks and ta-ta for now,
Annie