Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jealousy

Jealousy (from the album Tigerlily)

Ooo, jealousy

Is she fine
so well bred
the perfect girl
a social deb

Is she the sort
you've always thought
could make you
what you're not?

Ooo, jealousy

Is she bright so well read are there novels by her bed
Is she the sort
you've always said
could satisfy
your head?

Ooo, my jealousy

Does she talk
the way I do
is her voice reminding you
of the promises
the little white lies too
sometimes, tell me
while she's touching you
just by mistake
accidentally do you say my name?



I feel guilty, I really do. But this was bound to happen eventually. Under duress, even the most sycophantic music fan will admit that they don't like every single song that their favorite music maker has recorded. And while Natalie Merchant is far and away my favorite music maker, and there are very few of her songs that I don't like, Jealousy is one of those few.

But here's the thing - I think Jealousy is actually a good song. There are plenty of valid reasons for me to like it. First of all, the tune itself is quite catchy. It's not breaking any musical ground or anything, but it's pleasant and gently danceable. Then there are the lyrics. Are the lyrics the weak link? Well, no, not exactly. The lyrics are actually quite clever. Simple, funny, easy to sing along to. And, of course, Natalie's voice sounds great. It's a cute little pop song, wrapped up in a two minute and forty-two second bow.

So what exactly is my problem?

My problem is that Jealousy is not a Natalie Merchant song. It just isn't. It's frivolous, silly, petty. It's not that I'm against frivolity and silliness in general. I frequently listen with relish to songs from Leave Your Sleep about nasty ice cream, sneak eaters and reformed child-eating giants. And I respect and appreciate the long tradition of you-gone-done-me-wrong break-up songs. I listen to Aretha. And a couple of albums after Tigerlily, Natalie wrote one of the best you-gone-done-me-wrong (and I don't give a rip) break-up songs ever - I'm Not Gonna Beg. Even though the general theme is the same, though, that song is the song of a woman. Jealousy is the song of a girl.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I think Jealousy is a great song...for someone else to sing.

Okay, before you get massively annoyed with me for this outright rebellion against my own blog's muse, you should read this quote from Natalie from the liner notes of her Retrospective CD:

"This was my first stab at writing a truly frivolous song. It is so completely out of character that I hardly ever perform it live. I'm a little embarrassed by the catty pettiness of the lyrics, but the tune ended up being pretty catchy."

Oh, I'm feeling smug now. And justified. And still a little guilty.

One other quick note about the lyrics to Jealousy - I always laugh at the lines "Is she bright? So well-read? Are there novels by her bed? Is she the sort
you've always said, could satisfy your head?" I'm under no impression that this song is autobiographical in any way, but nonetheless this part really amuses me. Can you imagine a guy breaking up with Natalie Merchant because she's just not well-read enough? Who exactly would he be running away to? "Sorry, Natalie, I'm leaving you for the head archivist at the Library of Congress."

If you are a fan of women in brightly-colored pants and frequent and inexplicable scenes of large, dingy bras, I highly recommend you watch the music video for Jealousy here.

And if I haven't completely ruined it for you, you can download Jealousy at Itunes using this link - Jealousy - Tigerlily.

I've failed to mention this in the past, but I've set up an e-mail address for the Natalie Merchant Compendium Blog. The address is nmcompendium@yahoo.com. Feel free to e-mail me (or leave a comment, anyone can comment without signing up for anything) if you have particular songs you'd like featured on the blog soon. In the meantime, I'll just keep them coming randomly. I would also like to hear your thoughts on the blog, particularly if what you want to tell me is that this is the greatest blog ever, it saved you from jumping off a bridge, you can't imagine life without it and it's your reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Or you can send criticism. Whatever. But I really would love to hear from you.

See you next week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

City of Angels

City of Angels (from the 10,000 Maniacs album In My Tribe)

Words:

Heaven, is this heaven where we are?

See them walking, if you dare
if you call that walking
stumble, stagger, fall and drag themselves
along the streets of heaven

Where is the blessed table
to feed all who hunger on earth
welcomed and seated each one joyfully served?
see them walking, if you dare
if you call that walking
stumble, stagger, fall and drag themselves
along the streets of heaven

Where is the halo
that should glow 'round your face
and where are the wings that
should grow from your shoulder blades?


show them to me

These sobering sights I've seen
in the City of Angels
have all been one rude awakening
that was due to me in heaven

There would have been heavenly music
I was convinced before
and a host of the dearly to meet me
with hosannas sung at the door

But these sobering sights I've seen
in the City of Angels
have all been one rude awakening
that was due to me
in this city of fallen angels



You can't escape your hometown. You can leave it, but it will follow you wherever you go, hiding in your luggage and traveling on your back no matter how far away from home you get. Most people have a complicated relationship with the place where they grew up. Some have absolute love for their hometown, others have absolute hate (especially if they grew up in a small town, it seems), but the majority of people fall somewhere in between those two extremes. I am definitely in the latter category. So it seems relevant for me to now make a confession...my hometown is Los Angeles.

Don't you judge me!

I was still relatively young when my family left L.A. and I distinctly remember a conversation that took place within days of our move. My sister told a new acquaintance that we were from Los Angeles and the girl replied, "Oh...so you're one of those girls who cries when she breaks a nail." I was outraged! And a little amused because the truth was my sister was exactly the kind of person who would cry when she broke a nail. It was eye-opening to see how others viewed us.

But childhood nostalgia is a powerful thing. And since nostalgia has no greater companion than music, songs about Los Angeles have always had a special place in my heart. I was just a kid when I first heard the song Free Fallin' by Tom Petty, but I remember thrilling at the lines "Move west down Ventura Boulevard" and "I wanna glide down over Valhalla." That's my city he's talking about!

I know that at this point you must be thinking I have completely forgotten about the Natalie Merchant portion of Annie's Natalie Merchant Compendium Blog, but I haven't. And I'm not about to massively twist the meaning of this week's song into some sort of ode to the city of my youth. Rather, I acknowledge that City of Angels delivers Los Angeles a searing denunciation that is richly deserved.

Lots of people have concluded that the song speaks strictly about the homelessness in L.A., but I found this quote from Natalie particularly insightful:

"When we were there, I was out walking - which is an unusual thing in L.A. - and I saw this man sobbing in the middle of the sidewalk, in front of a bank. And he didn't look like a homeless person, just a crushed person, really distraught. It just made me really resolved to write the song." - Sounds, October 1987

When I read those words, it struck me that only in a big city could something like this happen and go widely unnoticed, or rather, unacknowledged. When you live in a place that is filled to the brim with hopeless, desperate and unstable people, it's easy to become impervious to their displays of emotion.

But in walks Natalie, eyes wide open. This has been a key to her songwriting from the very beginning. Her natural abilities as a writer likely meant that she would have written decent songs no matter what topics she chose to write about. Those topics could very easily have been any of the following: boys, drugs, parties, boys, unspecified rage, dancing, boys, general rebellion, overdrinking, and maybe even boys. But instead, she wisely chose from the outset of her career to focus her compassions on the world around her. My guess is that this wasn't entirely a conscientious decision, but a natural result of a kind-hearted disposition.

City of Angels reminds me not to tune people out, for emotional self-preservation or any other selfish reason. It also reminds me to avoid over-romanticizing my geographical past and keep my hometown reminiscing in the proper perspective. Take that, Tom Petty!

One more quick note before I sign off - did anyone get a chance to hear Natalie performing City of Angels on her most recent tour? I did and I thought it sounded incredible. Incredible enough to make me start fantasizing about an album wherein which Natalie does her own renditions of some of those older Maniacs songs. Not likely, I know, but one can dream.

See you next week!

Download City of Angels on Itunes: City of Angels - In My Tribe

Friday, November 12, 2010

Beloved Wife

Beloved Wife (from the album Tigerlily)

Words:

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me

You were the love
for certain of my life
for fifty years simply me beloved wife
with another love I'll never lie again
it's you I can't deny
it's you I can't defy
a depth so deep into my grief
without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
as my right
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife
my beloved wife

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain

My love is gone
now my suffering begins

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
surrender all the joy in my life
go with her tonight?

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
just turn my face away from the light
go with her tonight?



"It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch."

That statement has been attributed to everyone from William Alfred to Spalding Gray. The first time I heard it was when I was listening to a radio story about the journalist Page Smith. In a column Smith wrote about old age and dying, he made this statement: "The consolations of an old marriage are the good news. The bad news is that one partner in a marriage, however idyllic, will pre-decease the other." Then he quoted the words above. When his wife of 53 years died in 1995, he lasted all of two days before succumbing to his own death.

I suppose stories like this should prevent even the most hard-hearted of us from thinking that the story told in Beloved Wife is the stuff of overly romantic imagining. Then there's the real-life inspiration for the song.

"My grandmother fell into a coma in 1983, and my grandfather would sit with her for hours and hours. She passed away, and three days later he did too. He willed himself to go with her." - Natalie Merchant, Denver Post - November 1995

You probably have your own variations on this story. Whether it's your parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors or maybe even you that has experienced the loss of a lifetime partner, the sentiment behind Beloved Wife is universal.

That all being said, though, I think this song walks the tightrope.

Most of the time, I think that the thing that makes Natalie's music stand apart is, first and foremost, her lyrics. As beautiful as her voice is, I don't think nearly as many people would be interested in listening to it if the words she sang were of a lesser quality. (Think Hit Me Baby, One More Time - the Natalie Merchant version. No, I'm sorry, don't do that. I didn't mean it, I was just upset. I said I was sorry!) But Beloved Wife is a different story. While the lyrics are certainly poignant and moving, they are also very direct and simple and if someone else was singing them, this song could really fall flat.

Musically, Beloved Wife seems pretty close to a country song. Now this time go ahead and indulge the dark side of your imagination for a minute and think of what this song would sound like if a popular modern country artist were singing it. Someone like, say, Kenny Chesney or Faith Hill. (I just Googled "popular country singers" so that I could come up with some names for you, so don't say I don't do my research.) Just hear it for a minute, in your mind's...ear.

Not pretty, is it?

Not to say it would be terrible; it would still be a well-written song, regardless of what style it was presented in. But the thing that makes this song so distinctively moving, and prevents it from ever becoming merely sentimental, is Natalie's voice. I find it hard to believe that too many others, in whatever musical style, could do the song justice.

I love how on the lyric "a depth so deep into my grief" her voice falters on the word "deep." She holds back no emotion, but as is her custom, pours her whole heart into what she's singing. The result is a song that not only touches you, but that wraps its long fingers around your heart and pulls you into the deep with it.

Watch a live performance of Beloved Wife here

Buy Beloved Wife on Itunes: Beloved Wife - Tigerlily

Friday, November 5, 2010

If No One Ever Marries Me

If No One Ever Marries Me (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Laurence Alma-Tadema)

Words:

If no one ever marries me,
And I don't see why they should,
For nurse says I'm not pretty.
And I'm seldom very good.

If no one ever marries me
I shan't mind very much;
I shall buy a squirrel in a cage,
And a little rabbit-hutch.

I shall have a cottage near a wood,
And a pony all my own,
And a little lamb quite clean and tame,
That I can take to town.

And when I'm getting really old,
At twenty-eight or nine,
I shall buy a little orphan-girl
And bring her up as mine.




Before we get started on this week's song, I have a few housekeeping notes. First off, I'd like to say a hearty thank you to those of you who have submitted comments and e-mailed me with suggestions and even a bit of praise. I'm excited to see the increase in traffic on the site and I hope you keep the feedback coming.

Additionally, beginning this week and continuing whenever possible I will be providing a link to a video pertaining to the current week's song. (Thanks for the suggestion, Steven!) I will also begin providing an Itunes link to each week's song so that in the tragic event that you do not currently own the song under discussion, you can remedy that situation immediately.

Lastly, a big shout-out to Joshua for providing the lovely picture that now graces the header of this blog. That being said, given my complete lack of knowledge about how copyright laws work in relation to internet blogs/fan sites, I really hope this doesn't get me in trouble. I think this is the part where I should officially state, "This blog is in no way endorsed by Natalie Merchant or her management, record company, agent, official website, family members, pets, childhood best friend, next door neighbor, chiropractor, yoga instructor or housekeeper. Thank you."

Back to our previously scheduled programming:


Leave Your Sleep caught me off guard.

Not its very existence. I, along with many other Merchant fans, first heard about the project a good two years or so before it was released. I waited with anticipation for a release date and I bought the album the day it came out. But I hadn't spent a lot of time reading about the project and I had in no way formed an opinion on what I was about to hear. It was like going to movie I hadn't seen the trailer for. My lack of research wasn't based on apathy, but on trust. I had long ago been won over by Natalie's musical choices, so even if the promotional sticker on the album had said, "Natalie Merchant sings Ted Nugent covers with a Polka band" I would have purchased it without a second thought. Well...without a third thought.

I anticipated that it would be great, but I did not anticipate what an effect it would have on me. I listened to the first six songs in my car on the way home from work and I felt a musical euphoria that I hadn't felt in some time. I was at times smiling, laughing, teary-eyed and probably in general looking a bit like a psychopath to passing drivers. I can't wait to talk about all the many wonders on this most delicious album, but this is a one-song-at-a-time blog, so I better get down to business.

I chose If No One Ever Marries Me as the first Leave Your Sleep song to discuss on this blog, not because it is my favorite, although I do like it very much, but because it is the song that I believe best illustrates why this album, with words written by just about every person who's ever lived EXCEPT Natalie, is well and truly a Natalie Merchant album.

The words to this poem could've been interpreted musically in so many ways. They're a bit wacky at times, with mentions of squirrels in cages and rabbit hutches. Can you imagine this song as an upbeat little ditty, in the style of say, Calico Pie or Adventures of Isabel? I surely can, and I think it would've been quite fun to have that version of this song.

The words also contain a bit of a wink, with lines like "When I'm getting really old, at twenty-eight or nine..." Perhaps the music could've taken on a satirical tone. That could've been fun too.

There are also some who would take the words of this poem to be quite sad. "If no one ever marries me, And I don't see why they should, For nurse says I'm not pretty, And I'm seldom very good." This song could've easily been a weeper, the one you put on right after you get dumped by your significant other and you have an overwhelming need to feel sorry for yourself.

But the song is none of those things. And, sort of...all of them. I tried in vain to find a good quote from Natalie to include in this week's blog, but alas, I could not find what I was looking for. I remember, though, hearing her say in an interview that she felt that among other things, the poem had a note of both resignation and defiance to it. The music Natalie crafted to accompany this poem seems to me to be the perfect choice to blend all of the many emotional elements contained in it. While some might decry the fact that Natalie's last two records have been devoid of her own beautiful lyric-writing, this song illustrates why her fans haven't lost out on anything. This is undeniably a Natalie Merchant song.

During the one performance of the Leave Your Sleep tour I had the pleasure to experience, this song seemed to stop people dead in their tracks, so to speak. You could've heard a pin drop in the theater (which is really how it should be all the time, but I digress.) The only sounds I did hear were the sort of hushed "Mmm" sounds people make when they've lost access to words and are only able to emote on the most primitive level. It was quite magical indeed.

That's all for my commentary this week, kids. Tune in next time for a look at a truly depressing, cry-yourself-to-sleep, I-just-can't-go-on-living song. Any guesses?

Here is a link to a lovely performance of Natalie singing this song with the accompaniment of her two talented guitarists. Oh, and there's a little bonus song at the end! Click here

Buy If No One Ever Marries Me on Itunes: If No One Ever Marries Me - Leave Your Sleep