Throwback Thursday: Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple has had her ups and downs, publicly. There is her well documented Best New Artist acceptance speech at the 1997 MTV video music awards where she told us all that the “world is bullshit,” and, more recently, she stormed off stage during a performance at a Louis Vuitton event because the crowd was inconsiderately chatty. This is unfortunate since it dilutes the impact of her music, which is damn good. Coming of age at the height of Lilith Fair meant I have a profound connection to most female musicians of that era, but Fiona always spoke stronger to me. While I can’t imagine my mother was pleased to hear her 7th-grade daughter singing “Criminal” in the shower–“I’ve been a bad, bad girl / I’ve been careless with a delicate man / And it’s a sad, sad world / When a girl would break a boy just because she can”–her music, and my butchering of said music, was an integral facet of my development as a female. The ability to play act the scenes she sang about fattened my lexicon for real-life scenarios foreign to a sheltered kid. Plus, she made playing the piano look way cooler than it is, and I appreciated that as a fellow pianist.

My love for this woman is as wide as it is strong. Tidal, When The Pawn…, and Extraordinary Machine all save space on my shelf, and all three albums have, at one time or another, been invaluable companions on monotonous highways driving south. In fact, she’s been with me for so long, been through so much with me that I feel as if we’re old friends. Not in a Single White Female way, but in the spirit of mutual understanding–much like one could have with a bartender or barista at a frequent haunt. You don’t know them, they don’t really know you but you understand one another due to a shared interest and there is no judgement, it is a safe space. No, Fiona Apple does not know me but I probably know a thing or two about her because her music is nothing if not personal; this is the curse of being an artist.

Her music bonds the fragility of heartbreak to the venom of a breakup and the vacuum of the afterbirth, so to speak: that state of purgatory where love hasn’t fully seceded to hate or ambivalence, and you’re merely empty. It’s complex yet simple, and utterly relatable for a teenage girl whose every emotion is extreme (aided and abetted by watching too much My So Called Life). Listening to her old albums now is like a trip down memory lane where each song represents a different freeze frame in my life. I see the home in which I grew up, me sprawled on the floor of my bedroom, in winter, reading skateboard magazines with the comfort of my parents on the other side of the door yet shut out. I remember driving in my first car, sun roof open and hair whipping out the windows as I rushed through the warm Southern California night from one party to another and then home. So, what I guess I’m trying to impart on this Throwback Thursday is that Fiona Apple is home to me. The faces have been swallowed by the ground and the places have changed ownership, but I’m home in the house of memory as long as Fiona is by my side. And in these uncertain times, comfort may just be the quintessential throwback.

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