If you have never heard of the musician Fiona Apple, then I am happy. You have over four albums of great passion awaiting you. If you read the post a few weeks ago, you know that the main topic discussed with a lack of passion in art. Fiona Apple, whose 35th birthday is today, is as far away from that as you can get. With her writing, singing, and performing abilities, she is a triple threat and a dangerous one at that. There is something about a Fiona Apple song that is different from all of the other contemporary artists out there. For one, her voice is her own. It is not computer-generated or “fixed” with auto tune or any other computer. When you follow her career, you will find that her strongest songs are the ones that feature the smallest amount of instruments (such as her newest album). Her voice is its own instrument.
Have you ever had a lemon? Maybe, like me as a child, you have peeled off the skin and sucked into the core of one. It is an intense experience. The flavors of the fruit punch you immediately and do not let go of your tongue. The aftertaste might be even stronger. It is not sugary and it is not toned down, but it is real and strong and worth remembering.
In many ways, listening to a Fiona Apple song offers the same experience. This is why I really love her music: it is her. From what I understand, she lives an intense life. Knowing that she is not quite like everyone else, Apple admits to being impacted by everyday events much more than other people. During her days, she goes with a metaphorical antenna to her head. She waits until the antenna is spilling over with emotion and experience before she starts to write a song. To her, songwriting is a very personal endeavor. Like a true artist, she does not see the point of art for art’s sake, and so takes her time. Her writing comes in “seasons” and, when it is not a music season, that is fine with her.
Her lyrics and compositions are proof of this patience. Tracking her career, she has grown during the last sixteen years (she was eighteen—two months shy of nineteen— when she released her first album). From the start, she spoke of difficult issues like rape, breakups, lost love, growing up, and finding yourself. None of these are topics that one would find in the most popular songs. Whereas most commercial musicians write about the lighter side of life, usually about finding a romance, Apple is not afraid to delve down into what has hurt her most, like losing a romance.
However, it would be wrong to cast her as pop’s downer girl. She has happy songs as well. When she is happy, I can tell that she is genuinely happy. She might be able to carve out more happiness from situations than other people get. On the downside, when she goes down, she really goes down. Case in point: while awaiting to perform in the L.A. club Largo, Apple was asked to do a bit of a comedy warm-up with Paul F. Tompkins. She told him “I don’t do that”, when what she really meant was she was not planning on doing comedy and did not feel prepared. Yet knowing that she might have sounded harsh, according to Apple, ” just hurt for weeks because I felt rude“. In the words of Miss Apple’s lyrics, “the ants weigh more than the elephants“.
Some say that her lyrics, though personal, do not sound like normal speech. Indeed, I agree with this. While others use this as a flaw, I see it as a strength. Why should anyone have to be confined by the everyday language of today? Miss Apple manages quite a lot of wordplay in her songs, some of which are more playful than others. By writing words and phrases that are not commonly used, she is getting to the core of things. Everyday language is understandable, but rarely does it makes someone understand what someone is going through. Saying that a relationship did not go well on both sides makes coherent sense, but writing, “I could liken you to a werewolf/the way you left me for dead/but I admit that I provided a full moon” makes far more emotional sense. Music is all about emotion and Fiona Apple brings it with every project. When you hear her music, you know her passion. When I hear her music, I know that she is someone far more than a musician. She wrote the song “Extraordinary Machine” as a way to say that, no matter what she gets hit with in life, she will be fine. I disagree. No matter what, Fiona Apple will always be extraordinary.