Perfect Sound Forever

FIONA APPLE

How She Made Me Give A F***
by Lee Doptera
(December 2016)


I'm supposed to be covering New West Fest and Bohemian Nights. I should be extolling the virtues of the man who makes this amazing and free 3-day music festival in Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado and the free Thursday night shows possible. I should do that, but I do not particularly feel like writing about the accomplishments of a man right now, especially after November 8th.

In 1997, Fiona Apple won the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in a Video and she used that opportunity to comment on the superficiality of fame. She prefaced her remarks with an apology to those she would normally be thanking during her speech but recognized that she needed to use the opportunity that she had been given to speak honestly, openly, and in typical Fiona fashion, caustically. She was talking about the false glamor of fame and how inconsequential the opinions of empowered stars should be to the rest of us when she leaned into the microphone and said "This world is bullshit." We didn't listen to her. We continued to think that fame and camera time equaled competence and worth. Fiona Apple gave me fucks and I have words so I too am taking advantage of this opportunity to speak.

When I was young, I was taking harp lessons, tap, ballet, jazz, I was in Girl Scouts, I was teaching myself Russian, and I was fencing. My first poem won a national contest and is published in hard cover. I was eight when I wrote it, a third of the age of the second youngest finalist. My school created a competitive math league and I signed up to join. We had to take a timed test that covered mathematical concepts people generally don't tackle until college in order to qualify. I was 10. My teacher discouraged me with the gentle condescension that she didn't want me to be upset when I didn't make it. I made the team. By this point, I was making the paper because the local dance company performed to a song that I composed on the harp. I was a good girl. I was an accomplished girl.

When I entered Junior High, I was shell-shocked. Everyone was different in a bizarrely homogenous way. I realized that before I had lived a privileged life where the faces were different colors, the girls and boys were not held to different standards, and intellectual curiosity was a good thing. Suddenly, I was a nerdy girl who read and had never played Nintendo or been to a dance. I was a teacher's pet and apparently that made me unlikeable. I was an A student and apparently that made me stupid. I had never kissed a boy and apparently, my priorities were all wrong. I suddenly understood why girls became so moody when they hit their teenage years. It isn't hormones- it's the crushing barrage of new norms that are suddenly shoved down your throat on a daily basis and the slap-in-the-face realization that you should shut up and be pretty and swallow all your intelligence and ambition.

I am a good girl; always have been. I respect authority and I assume that everyone is basically good so I tend to believe that when a majority of people are telling me something, they have thought it through and know better than I do. Then my sister let me listen to her tape of Fiona Apple's Tidal. I couldn't stop listening to it. I wore through the tape. I immediately splurged on the CD and it's still in my car.

It wasn't just the music. To this day, Fiona Apple is unique. That is saying something. There are some people who think everything has been written and said, thought up, dreamed about, and that there are no new ideas. Fiona Apple is honest proof that this is wrong. Nobody sounds like her, nobody thinks like her.

Her voice is capable of a soprano trill and a deep growl. When she sings about anger, betrayal, heartache, injustice; it is the shriek of a raw nerve touched by fire. She is enigmatic, rarely granting interviews, and uncontrollable. The lengthy stretches between album releases are a testament to her zero-fucks-given attitude when it comes to studio pressure to record. She is not a speak-when-spoken-to artist; she decides what she wants to say and when to say it. Her oddly long album titles are a further testament to her refusal to self-edit or fit comfortably into her appointed space. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do. That is the full title of her fourth album. She must have decided to pare her titles down a bit after her second album: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right. At some point, you have to assume she's fucking with us.

But it wasn't just the music. I was furious. Each time I blared her into my shitty little headphones, I turned beet red and I shook. This wasn't me. I am the good girl, I am the quiet girl.

This puzzling rage was part of the reason I played that tape over and over again. I'd sit alone and cautiously approach it like it was a cat that might be feral, trying to figure out what it was and where it came from. I took an intellectual approach to it. Was it the low registers in the piano and the growling edge to her voice that triggered a primal response from my amygdala? Was it the arrhythmic nature of the songs that caused my erratic heartbeat? Was it that she said "I've been a bad bad girl" with a snarling smirk that rasped against the constant murmuring apology that my voice had become? Was it that they'd never play her at cotillion?

It's all of it. It's none of it. It's some combination. It's Fiona. She gave me fucks and I, in turn, started to give them. She made me start to question why I was such a quiet and acquiescent thing. She reminded me that I didn't have to raise my voice an octave and make my sentences turn up at the end. She reminded me to fucking say it; to say it and not edit my response so that everything came out as a wavering apology. I raised my hand in class when I had the answer, I didn't bite back my sarcasm, I started wearing a dog collar in a tongue-in-cheek answer to people calling me a bitch. I said something. I said everything. I stood up for people.

And so I'm planting my flag. I am a woman. I am bisexual. Not a lot of people know that I am bisexual and the few friends and family members I know that actually read what I write will be scandalized by the content of this article and the language I'm using. After all, I am still a good Southern girl in a lot of their eyes. It scares me frankly. I am petrified of the backlash I might face. I am terrified of the notch I will drop in the eyes of people I care about, but this is me and somewhere along the way, I forgot to stop hiding bits and pieces of myself and I allowed a quiet lie to stand in my stead.

Fiona never shrinks and she never puts out a song that doesn't meet her high standards. When she wrote "Werewolf," there was an old war film playing on her television and she knew the screams were part of the song. She searched for the right screams until she heard them coming from a park full of children and rushed out with a tape recorder. She recorded the sounds of a bottle factory for "Jonathan," and it adds a counterpoint to her wavering voice that reinforces the mania of the song; similar to the juxtaposition of the mechanical professionalism of the doctor split with his unvoiced heartache at the plight of the wounded and dying in Walt Whitman's The Wound Dresser. She knows how to perfectly broadcast marrow-deep emotions because she knows that a song doesn't just need a scream, it needs the right scream.

So I'm not going to write that article about a great festival put on by a man that's probably also great. The country that I thought had progressed has elected a man that is openly racist, xenophobic, islamophobic, anti-Semitic, sexist, has no understanding or desire to understand the complexities of foreign relations, does not believe in climate change and wants to abolish the restrictions that were inching us towards curbing it, whose policies are nothing but a constantly morphing string of word salads that range from nonsensical to deeply dangerous. He claims to be OK with his gay marriage (for now, as he easily flip-flops on a whim) but his hand-picked VP is strongly anti-gay and his promise to pick conservative high court judges could easily trounce gay rights. Any one thing that he has said or done throughout this entire journey-through-hell of a campaign would be enough to sink any other nominee but that's what you wanted. You would rather elect a dangerous and incompetent man than an intelligent and capable woman. You're still telling us to shut up and stop acting so smart and it hurts and it makes me fucking furious.

Sometimes I feel like nobody reads my articles; nobody cares what I have to say. But I am saying things and in this new present that we have landed in, what we say matters even if we're just talking to ourselves, so here it is: from now on, I will only write articles about the people that have been abused and excluded in our current President-elect's rise to power. Luckily, that's a long list to draw from. He may offer platitudes now, he may say that we're all a part of his America and that he didn't mean it but I've dated abusers before and I won't succumb to gas lighting. You said it. You did it. We heard it. We saw it. We see you.

You know, I can't help but think as I look at this idiotic tyrant that's been handed the keys to the kingdom that Fiona had it right when she said "you're more likely to get cut with a dull tool than a sharp one." Prepare for four years of angry festering slices. If we make it that long. And, if somehow we limp through this Presidency intact and you care to say "he did okay," or "he wasn't as bad as you thought," or even "he did a great job," you're missing the point entirely. Anyone who treats half of humanity as less-than should never be rewarded or empowered. My face is still stinging from the backhand you dealt me but I'm offering my up my fucks in the hope that you might give a fuck too.


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