My friend Fiona Apple has been in the news lately. While this is good from a publicity standpoint (Apple has just embarked on a month-long collaboration tour with Blake Mills), it is not good for just about every other reason. Fiona had not even made it through the first gig when the show stopped thanks to an audience member who shouted, “Fiona! Get healthy! We want to see you in ten years!” (Technically, Fiona stopped the show herself, but would have had no reason to had it not been from this commenter.) From what it sounds like, there was then a rush of verbal abuse directed at both the heckler and Fiona. Someone shouted that Fiona was a “has-been” and someone else commented that she had the appearance of a “half-man.”
Fiona, being strong and independent, did not take well to this. She asked the original commenter to leave. Or, rather, demanded. The woman did, but not before yelling out, “I saw you twenty years ago and you were beautiful.” Besides being historically inaccurate (the earliest Fiona performed her material was in 1996, the year her debut CD Tidal was released, which was seventeen years ago), the use of the past tense implies that the beauty that was once there is now gone, which is definitely insulting. All of this occurred right before Fiona was about to launch into her ballad “I Know”, a song with deep emotion that includes lyrics like “So be it, I’m your crowbar/If that’s what I am so far/Until you get out of this mess” and “If it gets too late, for me to wait/For you to find you love me, and tell me so/ It’s okay, don’t need to say it.” Clearly, this was not the right time to express concern for an artist.
And I do say “concern” because, unlike some others, I don’t think that the fan was trying to provoke Fiona in a negative way. Listeners of Apple know that she incredibly honest both in interviews and in her lyrics about the struggles she has faced, which includes an eating disorder. Fans should also be able to tell that, though she has been thin from the beginning, she has lost a considerable amount of weight since around 2007, when she did a tour with Nickel Creek. Since weight loss and eating disorders can be majorly connected (I write “can be” since a disorder like Binge Eating Disorder are more associated with weight gain. Fiona’s disorder fell on the other side of the spectrum), it makes sense that a fan would be concerned that an artist they appreciate is going through another rough time.
However, as a fan of Fiona (or even just a mere observer at one of her concerts), it should be obvious how much dedication and soul Fiona puts into each of her performances. These are not the performances that come with a pre-recorded backing track and rehearsed dance routines. These are the performances of someone who is getting metaphorically naked in front of the stage and then becoming even more vulnerable by singing lyrics of an autobiographical, personal nature. This is no easy thing to do. When someone is already in that zone, interrupting their work to voice an opinion (however well-intentioned it may be) acts at best as a major distraction, and at worst as a dagger that punctures an already-unguarded artist. When going to a concert and purchasing a ticket, a type of agreement is made between audience and performer(s). The performers promise to give you material, and the audience promises to be a receiver of such a performance. Buying a ticket, even if it is giving financial benefits to the performer(s), is not an excuse to do whatever one pleases during the show. Performances are a shared event, not personal property. Each individual should have the considerations of all in mind, if the show is to reach its full potential. And perhaps the fan thought that this really was the best thing to do in this situation. Perhaps the fan thought, If not now, when?
Here is what the (alleged) heckler wrote in the comments section of Rolling Stone, giving a somewhat different side to the story (yes, I am aware that this is not entirely credible, but I did find what she had to say interesting from a discussion standpoint):
“[I] am the “heckler” in question. My only comment was to tell her that we, the audience, love her, and want her to be healthy so she can be around for a longer time. I made no statement regarding her beauty, the shape of her body, etc. That was another person. Nor was I escorted out. Upon seeing how quickly everything devolved, I left of my own accord. My plea came from a place of sincere concern and love. I will own that perhaps it was the wrong venue and a rash decision, but I have no regrets. After seeing Fiona give a vibrant, engaging performance in July 2012 (despite looking ill), it was an utter shock to see such a spiral in such a short time. The show was of significantly poorer quality compared to the three other times I have seen her, and the tone of the evening was just plain sad. Sure, I could have kept my concerns to myself. However, as I looked out at the audience from the balcony, it saddened me to think that I was one of many enabling her self-destruction, in whatever form that may be. I love FIona’s music and have for years. In the same way I would feel regretful if I did not share similar concerns to a friend, I acted emotionally and expressed my concern to Fiona. There was no ill-intention behind my actions, although I am saddened by how it impacted her. Bottom line, I didn’t feel ok lauding a mediocre performance, or sitting idly by while someone I have grown to care about wastes away. I think deep down Fiona understand that. I will always be a fan, and hope I can continue to support her. I feel the most regret at how misinterpreted I was, and want to insure all Portland fans that, should she come here, again, I promise to stay away. Not because I don’t love seeing her live, doing what she does best, but because I want to see her continue to thrive. And I don’t think she would feel comfortable doing that with the threat of anything like this happening again in the future. Be well Fiona. Your fans love you.”
While I do not support the decisions made by the hecklers, I am interested in at least understanding why this original comment was made. So let’s consider a few things. Fiona does not have a personal Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube account. Her Facebook account was made in March 2011, and mostly contains information on past or future shows. Very rare is it that an actual message or picture from Fiona herself will emerge on the website. Ms. Apple usually only tours after releasing a new album, and she is known for long stretches between albums (her last album was released seven years after its 2005 predecessor, Extraordinary Machine).
This brings about the issue of how one is to contact a musician. One could write a letter, though there is no guarantee that it will ever reach the star personally. An online video could be made, but that would also have to be viral enough for the star or the star’s team to see. (And, as she does not even read her own reviews, it seems pretty unlikely that Fiona would be spending time looking up Fiona Apple-related YouTube videos.) Certainly, if one is concerned enough, standing back and doing nothing is not an option. But how concerned must one get before their thoughts become action? And what form of action should those thoughts take?
Reader, whether a fan of Fiona Apple or not, what are your thoughts on this matter? Is it “enabling” potential sickness if one is concerned about an artist, but fails to act? How does a fan get their message out? Or is the fan’s role simply, as has been suggested by the comments section, to shut up, listen to the music, and then leave the artist in peace?
*Photo Courtesy of malextra.com.