Here’s a thing I was writing where I got trumped by another site. TRUMPED! It’s not finished, but I thought I’d post it here rather than waste it. I might put hyperlinks in it later if I have time.
“How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is beg to be left alone?” asks Fiona Apple on “Left Alone” from her new album, The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do. She’s singing it at 34, but it’s an unwittingly distinct summation of the teenage impulse: craving affection and identification whilst rejecting all advances of that ilk because none of them fit right, none of them understand. “Look at! Look at! Look at! Look at me!” goes “Daredevil”. Having arrived as a teenage star in the mid-90s, Apple has never lost any of the precocity or preciousness of that era. It’s long been said that musicians are frozen in time at the point at which they become famous.
Unlike for my American colleagues, Apple was not a feature of my early-mid-00s British teenage years. She never had a breakout hit here; her cultural insignificance in the UK was accidentally but amply illustrated when NME used a photograph of Alanis Morrisette to head their review of The Idler Wheel last week. Intrigued and bemused by the flap around Apple’s SXSW performance, I downloaded Tidal and listened to it a few times before deciding she wasn’t for me; her vocal and musical style was too self-conscious, too outré. I’d used up all that goodwill on Regina Spektor around 2004, before switching my allegiances to gruff old men. However, I was immediately certain that if I’d heard this record back then, it would have ousted Soviet Kitsch from the pile and found a comfortable home alongside the Ani DiFranco live albums that clogged my hi-fi for a good few years. Its showy indignance would have fit like a non-uniform glove defiantly brandished in school assembly.
The point of this is not for me to sneer, “Yeah that thing you all like? I hate it! It’s so childish! And here’s why!” As the string of serious, and increasingly thorny Apple profiles winds on, it’s clear that calling her a teenage concern would be reductive. Apple’s artistry clearly hits profound depths for her fans, and her music is the opposite of infantile; it strikes me as intensely methodical and considered, based in enduring adult experiences— or at least experiences that one would only hope to go through as an adult, if ever, although that’s not always the case. Her lyrics on paper are often astounding. In interviews and in song, however, she comes across in that exasperating, precious way that teenagers do; incorrigible and indulging self-aggrandizing impulses that tend to slip away in one’s early 20s for most people. (Though that is something of a generalization.) To be blunt about it, she strikes me as a quite the pain in the backside. But having been a teenage fanatic and pain in the backside in a fashion too obsessive and embarrassing to recount in much detail, I know full well that expressing glib dislike of such an evangelism-inspiring artist will provoke protective ire among some of her fans. Opinion aside, something I find fairly unequivocal is the fact that Apple’s music speaks to that teenage instinct that’s protective to the last about the art that couches its personality the most deeply.
As Carrie Battan remarked in her interview with Apple, “Fan camps have become territorial— arguments over who’s liked you longer or more genuinely.” “Shadowboxer” going mainstream was a fine way to split the Apple camp between Lillith Fair acolytes and MTV-watcher late adopters, but with an artist like Apple, that kind of line-drawing is just a surface-level concern. “Every Single Night” from The Idler Wheel goes, “I just want to feel everything,” an intensity and emotional greediness that’s certainly symptomatic of being a wallowy, music-loving teenager; I’m sure there were at least a couple of months in each of our teenage lives where you were convinced that no-one else could possibly think, or feel, or mope, or long as much as you. (A few years past teenage, but in the season finale of Girls, Hannah claims that no-one could possibly be as scared as her.) Transfer that lyric about feeling back onto the kind of music that’s speaking those words, and you’ve got a wholly absorbing web of behavior and opinions reinforced in the music you love, which only intensify within as the two feed off each other. The arguments go beyond who’s liked Apple longer or more genuinely into an emotionally territorial— and unsubstantiated, untested, thereby increasingly irrational— land-grab to prove who is the most kindred of spirits with the artist in question.
As such, any attack on this fannish behavior or opinions inspired by the musician inevitably become personal in a way that’s usually set aside with age. When I was 11, I fell out permanently with my best friend of five years over who was better, S Club 7 (her) or the Spice Girls (me). (It was a double jib as I had really only started liking them because of her, though the obsession quickly transcended copycatting.) A few months before, a sworn enemy of mine had stolen my Spice Girls folder (a cardboard file full of cut-out images that I hadn’t yet had time to stick into my third lever-arch file glued full of such things) and claimed to have burned it, the most scathing attack on my personality of my short life to date. If that experience was playground-tribal where you’d fight over who got to be which Spice Girl, my teenage experiences with extreme fandom represented more of a personal struggle to internalize as much as I possibly could about the artists I admired. I would find out where they bought their clothes, get my hair cut the same way, draw their tattoos onto my arms and hands with a Sharpie before school every day; buy every CD they recommended, fight to get the highest daily post percentage on their message board. Parents, teachers, and sometimes friends would try and embarrass me about it; their comments just made me more belligerently besotted.
It certainly wasn’t rational, and it probably became unhealthy. I can’t imagine how exasperating my behavior must have been. It’s long since passed, luckily, but one of the reasons I felt moved to write this piece was because extreme fandom fascinates me, probably due to having escaped it and being able to look back without that myopic gaze. Back then, I certainly behaved in ways— and to musician’s faces— that were creepy. If I see people doing it now, my instinct is to try and rescue them from the devoted myopia that’s left them bereft of the ability to realize that they’re going too far. I’m definitely not intimating that fans of Apple are embarrassing themselves, or transferring my teenage idiocy onto them; if anything, this is a longwinded way of saying, I don’t get it personally, but I absolutely see why you do, and understand the relationship you have with this artist.
Vulture’s astonishing piece with Apple, published this week, draws on something she said at a 1997 industry party thrown in her honor: She was “hoping that if I can be raw about my emotions and not hide anything, I can show people my age and younger it’s okay.” It’s the opposite of the tempered emotion that put paid to my teenage obsessions; it sees nothing irrational in letting emotion flow freely and unexpurgated, appealing to the naïve teenage evangelist who believes that emotional honesty is the path to happiness. Even though Apple’s not reached that happy zone yet (and perhaps may never do so) The Idler Wheel sticks to that path with a fervent belief, matched by all those who trail behind.
Dear Emily White
- We are only two years apart in age, so I don’t understand how you “never went through the transition from physical to digital.” I remember it well. I remember when girls at my school started getting iPods in the early 2000s, and I thought that they and their stupid machines were ridiculous; these girls only owned about three CDs, so why did they need to digitise them on some expensive device? I now have one of those devices, a 160GB iPod that I’ve owned since about 2008. It’s full of the non-vinyl music that I’ve bought since around that period (and of course, been sent for free as part of my job), and carrying it around has never proven inconvenient. It does sometimes annoy me that I can’t transfer my vinyl purchases (second hand ones particularly, and the new ones that don’t come with download codes) onto it, but that’s also a nice reminder of the co-existence of physical and digital. There doesn’t need to be a transition. It’s not a trade-off. “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” This is precisely what my iPod, full of music that I have purchased does.
- You say you’ve “never invested money in [musicians] aside from concert tickets and t-shirts.” As an intern at NPR, I bet you probably aren’t getting paid more than expenses. It sounds like a prestigious internship, and I’m sure that to earn it, you had to pour time and energy into other internships, most of which probably didn’t pay you anything. I know what it’s like to write for free for a really long time, and also know how rewarding it is when people eventually start paying you to do it, and you can set aside writing for nothing. I can’t play a note, but I’m sure it feels exactly the same for musicians. They’re not expecting to get paid when they’re noodling around in their garage for fun, but when the product of that time is available for public consumption, and often drawing people to sites that make their money via clicks and advertising generated by people coming looking for this music, they deserve to get paid in the same way that you do. The fact that they’re generating revenue for others is actually an aside: they’re producing something, you’re enjoying it, so you should pay for it. I can’t find the link, but Lauren Laverne wrote a great fashion column recently about how clothes are one of the last things you can’t digitise. Of course, a big part of fashion is its exclusivity; thousands of pounds for one garment. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it. It should be the same principle with music, which, happily, is priced in far more egalitarian fashion.
- The part of your blogpost that annoys me the most: “But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.” Don’t “my peers” me. By attempting to lump those of us in our 20s together, you invite precisely the kind of generational generalisations with which Lowery responded to your article. Admittedly, I have recently had to ban myself from buying any more records, but that’s because I had gone wild in second hand record shops and significantly depleted my funds. I have very little disposable income; I would say 75% of what I have goes on records.Typing in Paypal details to get a special edition LP package is a giddy thrill. I was pretty sad when I tried to pre-order the new Mount Eerie LP direct from Phil Elverum and found that the postage was about $40, too much to justify. I’ll have to wait to find it in a shop here. One of my best friends, who just turned 22, routinely buys multiple copies of records she loves by her favourite bands so that she can give them to friends, knowing that she’s tried to translate how much enjoyment the band have given her into the most money she can afford to give them. Another friend a couple of years older than me just moved house; I saw from Twitter that he had 17 boxes of records to move. SEVENTEEN! The main problem with your attitude towards not buying music, as far as I can discern, is the way in which you have internalised the possibilities of acquiring it for free without a second thought. Age is not an excuse, and I sincerely resent you making that part of the conversation. No-one’s going to catch me if I steal all my music off the internet - I’m not going to pretend I’ve never done that - but I take pride in paying for it, in a reverse fashion to the way I take pride in getting paid for writing about music. It’s just nice (and morally sound) to reward people for doing something that gives you such enjoyment. I owe music much more than I could ever pay it in pounds.
Dear David Lowery
- Despite all the caveats to the contrary, your post (and its subsequent dissemination, which is not your fault) comes across as incredibly shaming, patronising, and guilt-tripping.
- Enough of the “your generation”: Although Emily White appears to have grown up internalizing and executing the morally unsound consumption of music that technology encourages, it doesn’t mean everyone in their 20s has, as the examples in my last point to Emily go some way to illustrating. And on a similar note, I am perfectly sure that the minute the opportunity to freeload music came along, scores of people above the age of 30 also took full advantage of that.
This feels like quite an embarrassing thought to have about a TV comedy: The last episode of Girls made me slightly anxious and temporarily sad in a very minor fashion about how easy it is to terribly mess up and misunderstand a positive situation.
The embarrassed feeling perhaps comes as I climb down from the soapbox from which I railed about the show when it began. Talk about a U-turn! What initially seemed a very myopic slice of life turned out to be recognisable and honest in a way that I did my best to resist at the start. Nice job, Lena Dunham.
Good thing to keep in mind here.
As part of BBC Four’s superb London Collection, you can currently watch A Girl Comes to London on iPlayer. It’s a special report last broadcast on October 24, 1956, about young gels (to use the correct diction) moving to London in search of a new life away from their provincial homes. Some come to pursue dreams of showbusiness and glamma, the clipped narration explains. Others apparently come for a day trip, and get foolish ideas in their pretty pintuck curled heads about staying forever, and leaving their drab ol’ life behind. These less-than-solid plans inevitably land them in a boarding house full of other such dreamers, who have to trade hopes of the stage for secretarial work, and must submit to curfews set by gruesome boarding mistresses who bemoan the “deplorable hygiene” of the girls with a grim manner that suggests they probably ate the carbolic soap for breakfast. I can’t recommend it enough as a period piece, it’s very funny, and quite astonishing. (Thanks to Jude Rogers for the tip, via Twitter.)
“500 girls are moving to London each week,” the documentary explains, alluding to the post-war phenomenon. Tabloid reports about the worst fates befalling these dames were rife, and giving mums and dads back home the willies. So the state stepped in and provided a certain duty of care, offering lodgings and job centre appointments for these young women to set them on their feet in the city. They lost about 25% of them to elopements and the city’s darker trappings, one man says somewhat sinisterly, but hey, three-quarters is a fine survival rate!
It seems unimaginable now, the idea that you’d move to London in pursuit of some vague dream - as certainly still happens - and get sorted out by the state when your overly optimistic plans drift up shit creek. I’m not sure that this would be desirable at all, and I certainly don’t think surviving in a big city is any kind of entitlement. However, I’m very interested to find out when exactly this duty of care subsided, in what year young people were left to fend for themselves on arriving in the smoke.
It’s fascinating, too, that the documentary only focused on young women moving to the city; the assumption by implication is that young men were doing so on the promise of previously arranged jobs and financial prosperity; none of this fannying around in search of a dream. You see this focus reflected in many other forms of far more modern culture; how many films about young men moving to the big city can you name in comparison to those concerning wayward city-bound women?
One of the most obvious, immediate cases in point is Lena Dunham’s TV show “Girls.” I really loathed the programme when it started, though as we’ve reached the series finale (which I believe airs in America tonight), I’ve grown to enjoy it sincerely rather than in that cheek-shredding, hate-watching fashion. Whereas Sex and the City seemed geared towards making you identify with one of the four (THERE CAN ONLY BE FOUR) types of women that it presented, the thing I like about Girls is that it a) shows you how gross and voyeuristic women can be, which ties into b) whilst those parts ring true, the rest of the shoe leaves me wanting to un-identify with any of the characters as fast as humanly possible. If I pass a magazine shelf and see a cover-line asking “Are you a Hannah, Marnie, Jessa or Shoshanna?”, I’m gonna go HAM in WHSmiths. (Though kudos, Dunham, for having Jessa rail that she is “not the ladies” in episode two, thereby zinging anyone who loathes the idea of a show presenting archetypes with which to identify but watches it with some vain sense of superiority. (This was me 100%.))
The least identifiable part of the show for me personally is that these four young women are ingrained with the belief that they can only do what they want to do, or be who they think they are, within the confines of New York City. It’s a different town, but on July 19, 2010, I moved to London with a week to find somewhere to live before starting a job the following Monday. I moved because I had to to do the job I wanted to do, I had never wanted to live in the capital. On July 21, 2012, I am leaving and moving north, (in part) because I no longer need to be here, even though I am leaving the hallowed music industry behind, what a thought. Although their lack of forward planning makes my brain burn, from the point of view of a rationalist who likes concrete plans, there’s something almost enviable about the flightiness of the girls in the London documentary, convinced that living in a big city will change their lives. Good luck to anyone who’s doing the same today.
Today I expounded on my theories as to how the current UEFA European Football Championship functions. As with ”Game of Thrones” and the songs of My Bloody Valentine, I have no desire to be disabused of my concept of the game, which goes THUSLY:
You have your teams: Switzerland FC, Spain Athletic, Germany Wednesday, and so on. They play a number of games until we are through to what a conventional championship might call the “semi-final”, where say, 11 teams remain. Through the medium of STATISTICS and the things I have pretended to learn from admiring Zonal Marking’s fancy diagrams, the best player from each team is chosen.
Instead, the ultimate team is generated: EUROPA FC. Mark E. Smith writes their anthem. (“Europa-ah… Rhymes with Mitteleuropa-ah… No-one there speaks Maricopa-ah…”) They must all learn Esperanto to promote their interests of their new unified footer nation.
Someone let me on the Guardian footer podcast.
Or, some books I think everyone should read, in no particular order. Inspired by Flavorwire’s list of 30 books to read before you turn 30 (of which I have read five, though I’ve seven years to read the rest).
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Young Hearts Crying - Richard Yates
All Quiet on the Orient Express - Magnus Mills
Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
Matilda - Roald Dahl
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit - Sloan Wilson
Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene
Play It As It Lays - Joan Didion
Forever - Judy Blume
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann
Carrie - Stephen King
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
Uncle - J.P. Martin
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen