It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in my empty office in downtown Dallas. It’s early, 6:40 a.m., still dark. My desk light is reflecting in my window. I am on the ground floor. Work doesn’t start for another hour and fifty minutes. I’m listening to Fiona Apple.
I’m listening through my laptop speakers, and Fiona’s voice is bouncing off the walls, mixing with the sound of semi trucks and motorcycles passing by outside. Mixing with the sound of the air-conditioner trying to keep up with the quickly rising temperatures. It’s Dallas and summer and hot. What is it about this album that never gets old? Looking through my Spotify history, it’s easy to see my obsessive trends: Passion Pit, The Antlers, Menomena, St. Vincent. But mixed in everywhere is Fiona, more consistent than anything else. And not just mixed in: There are pages and pages of nothing but her, of nothing but this album.
And this album, I should mention, is Idler Wheel…
Or more accurately, more completely, more entirely: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.
I’m in a strange time of my life. I recently left a job I’d been at for two years, the longest I’d ever been anywhere, and joined this start-up downtown. We, like everyone else in the world, are making an app. The company could fold any month now, any week now, any day. My whole world is unstable. I started listening to Fiona at the beginning of all this, at the beginning of the summer. And maybe what I love so much about this album is how unstable it sounds, like it’s about to burst apart at any minute, like Fiona is about to crack up, lose it, go mad. And the thing is, I feel the exact same way.
I watched her on Jimmy Fallon the other day. I watched online. I should have been working. She’s either younger or older than I thought she would be. I’d been picturing her as a little girl, but I’d also been picturing her as a grandmother. What I hadn’t been picturing her as was a 30-year-old woman, beautiful but beginning to show her age, experienced but, in some ways, still a child. She is noticeably thin. Her Wikipedia page says she might be anorexic. I am trying to understand her behavior. It’s as if she is both incredibly shy and incredibly angry, mousy but violent, like she could murder you and then say, casually, Oops. For brief moments, she goes inside herself completely, like a revolving door, alternating between introversion and extroversion. She is volatile. Her honesty is revolting, and yet, at the same time, mesmerizing, and then, a moment later, charming. Onstage she is hypnotic. She puts her hands on her hips while she sings and she rarely smiles.
In July she was on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. My friend tweeted about it. He said, Fiona Apple is Batshit Crazy. I downloaded the show immediately, and although I disagree with my friend about her sounding batshit crazy, she does sound unhinged. At one point, Maron tells her that he worries about her sometimes, and Fiona says, Why does everyone always tell me that?
But the fact is, it’s her instability that I find attractive. It’s her volatility, her anticelebrity, that I am captivated by. I worry about her, too, but not that she’s going to fall apart: I worry that she’s going to get her shit together. (This, I realize, is a despicably selfish fear.)
Someone said — I can’t remember who — that the point of art is to make life more bearable.
Camus said art is confessional.
Andre Malraux said art is revolt.
But me, I say art is contradictory.
And Fiona Apple — both creative and destructive, both charming and repulsive, both gentle and vicious — is a contradiction.
I used to think life was simpler, that you could be one way and not another, that you could believe this and not that. But now I realize that life is sloppy, that I am sloppy, that there is a believer and a non-believer inside me, a peaceful man and a violent man, a stable man and an unstable man. I am, at times, all things at once. I am, at times, volatile. And I can no longer relate with anything that isn’t a contradiction. Maybe that’s why this album is such a comfort.
It rained last night and now the water is dripping off the rooftops. You might think it was raining still, but it isn’t; this is just what’s left. The city was so cold this morning I wished I had a jacket. Maybe it wasn’t actually that cold. I stood in a bookstore and wasn’t interested in anything. The whole world felt dull, flat. This happens sometimes; I vacillate between obsession and indifference (Passion Pit, The Antlers, Menomena, St. Vincent, Fiona Apple). And when the obsession is gone, I forget what was there to begin with. But anyway, I’m stalling. I don’t know how to end this. I’d wanted to tie it all up, wrap it all together, but now I know I can’t: there are too many loose ends, too many threads that start and go nowhere, that hang like fray. This is a wreck, a mess. But, in the end, I guess that’s how I like it.