Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kind and Generous

Kind and Generous (from the album Ophelia)
 
You've been so kind and generous
I don't know how you keep on giving
for your kindness I'm in debt to you
for your selflessness, my admiration
and for everything you've done

You know I'm bound...
I'm bound to thank you for it

You've been so kind and generous
I don't know how you keep on giving
for your kindness I'm in debt to you
and I never could have come this far without you
so for everything you've done

You know I'm bound...
I'm bound to thank you for it

I want to thank you
for so many gifts
you gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you
for your generosity
the love and the honesty
that you gave me

I want to thank you
show my gratitude
my love and my respect for you
I want to thank you

I want to...

Thank you
thank you
thank you
thank you
thank you
thank you


Dear Feminists of Years Past, you who fought for women's right to vote, to receive equal pay, to have workplace rights, and to have legal protection from assault - I just want you to know...

Everyone refers to each other as b**** now.

I recently read a review of a new album by a very famous female artist and seemingly every time the review quoted a lyric from the album, that same delightful word kept making an appearance. A guest performer appeared on the album and sang her due "respect" to the main act by referring to her as...you guessed it. 

I get it. It's supposed to be empowering, right? It's been reclaimed by strong women everywhere and their use of the word in reference to themselves or others is a sign of dominance or deference. Oh, I get it. And I hate it.

It's not just the word. It's the entire attitude surrounding its glorified usage. Is that really the best you can do to describe your love and respect for another woman? Because I can think of much more beautiful, less negatively-associated words for love and respect. Like, say, "love." Oh, and "respect." I guess I'm just saying, isn't there a more gentle, sensitive way to display affection in song?

If there is one song above all others in Natalie Merchant's musical compendium that could be singled out as the most ripe for taunts, insults, and eye rolls, it surely is Kind and Generous. There are a couple of obvious reasons for this:

1) There are many, many la la las. Like, hundreds of them. And some people just can't take la la las. It's as if these innocuous syllables serve as some sort of musical kryptonite, threatening to send them to their death by cuteness. I have no opinion of la la las. I'm not pro- or anti-. And, actually, I only realized a few years ago that they were la la las. I thought they were na na nas. And that's a whole other story. No time to get into that.

2) The words "thank you" are repeated. A lot. Most people have no idea the song is even called Kind and Generous. If you found this page through Google, I'm going to bet you searched the words "Natalie Merchant Thank You." Am I right? Anyways, repeating the same phrase over and over again also has a kryptonite-like effect on the listener, namely in that it forces the phrase into their head and they have no choice but to have it playing in a loop in their brain all day long and perhaps even through the night. This is a dreadful thing when it happens, even when you love the song. On this count, Kind and Generous can only be judged as guilty, guilty, guilty.

There is also a less obvious reason why some people, I believe, might be inclined to make fun of this song. A quote from Natalie:

"I think a lot of people have become accustomed to women artists being less sensitive, a bit more harsh, a bit more confrontational. This...is a bit sensitive so maybe it seems outmoded, but I think what is being discovered is that a lot of people really still desire that in their music."*

Kind and Generous is completely open-hearted and genuine. There is no irony, no skepticism, and absolutely no edge. And this is something that is increasingly rare in any form of art anymore. Have you ever watched a movie or a rerun of a TV show you liked from the 70s or 80s and found yourself wondering, "Why did I ever like this or think it was funny?" The answer is that our taste in entertainment has changed with time and this is due, in large part, to the fact that dark, caustic humor is what pretty much ALL comedy offers now. That's what we're used to. Irony-free statements are hard to stomach. 

This is not me talking about some attitude I've observed only in others. This is something I completely identify with. Except when it comes to music. Music can you touch you in a way that is wholly unique. It is protected from our modern demands for cynicism and irony. It can just be itself; lyrics can be nakedly candid. Our reactions to music are generally private and in our own headspace we can allow ourselves to still be blissfully cheesy - and by cheesy, I mean honest.

So I can now confess to all of you with wild abandon - I love Kind and Generous. I appreciate the simple beauty of the words, the gentleness and genuineness. I don't care if it has become the go-to cliche song for expressing gratitude and love. It's become that song for a reason - it's really beautiful and really good. 

Every time I've seen Natalie in concert, she's closed the performance with this song. It's the obvious - and right - choice. It's a transcendent experience, in fact. Because, as you can imagine, a person can't sing this song without accessing the emotions being expressed in the words. Natalie is alive and electric when she sings this song and everyone singing along in the crowd gets in on a piece of that emotion. Gratitude feels really good, in both directions. 

Another quote from Natalie:

"When I play and people sing along, it makes me cry. It makes me so happy to know somehow this thing that started so small as me sitting at my piano and having this idea could spread all over the country and all over the world."**

And darn it all if I don't cry too. 

And then I hide it by pretending that it's a contact lens problem. So...I guess I'm not quite as honest as I want to be. But I am getting closer. Songs like this one really help.

*****

That's all for me this time. I will post at least once more before I head off to see Natalie in concert on June 18th and then I'll be writing a special concert review post, so keep your eyes peeled for that. I'd like to thank you, thank you (no, I couldn't resist) for all the nice e-mails and comments you've sent me. I'm a bit behind on responding to e-mails, so please forgive me and please keep writing me because I really do love hearing from you. Talk to you soon!

Click below to watch the music video for Kind and Generous. Little known fact - Natalie plays literally every single role in this video. (Okay, that's a lie, but it sounded good, right?)


Download the Itunes session version of Kind and Generous, I highly recommend it - Kind and Generous (iTunes Session) - iTunes Session

*Washington Post - September 1995
**Miami Herald - March 1999