Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tigerlily: This Star Fell Down

Iremember the 1990s in a way that others may not. I remember it in two halves: there is Pre-Cobain and Post-Cobain. For me the most important person of the 90s wasn't Bill Clinton or any other politician but Kurt Cobain. I don't believe any other person had a greater cultural impact on that decade than Cobain. His rise to fame and his tragic suicide set the tone for how I remember the 1990s. I'll never forget being so excited for a band in my life and I'll never forget that afternoon a month after my birthday in 1994 that his body was discovered in Seattle and the world changed.

Tigerlily was released in 1995 and was the fist solo album of Natalie Merchant after leaving the band 10,000 Maniacs. It was the best album Post-Cobain in the 1990s. While Nevermind was the best album of the entire decade, Tigerlily was the best album for the rest of it. I spent more time listening to this album than any other album then and I still listen to it regularly twenty-two years later.

In 1995 I had moved into a loft in an 1920s former automobile factory. It had walls of windows that were the original factory ones and I would sit and listen to this album and look out that wall of windows on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta. I loved to sit there on gray winter days and look out to the east over Green's Package Store and the Clermont Hotel. Tigerlily took me places in my mind that I could never voice but I knew I felt.

Cobain may have been the one to sing, "I miss the comfort in being sad," but Merchant was the one to sing damn you liar you betrayed me and I'm not going to forgive. This is an album full of sadness, fear, doubt, anger, betrayal, deep love that clings to your bones and tiny slices of hope. This is an album filled with mourning about failures and maybe represents the disillusionment of Generation X - that we weren't going to be as happy and successful as our parents. All of these things were the 1990s and how Generation X lost their innocence.

There is a confrontational tone to this album and it isn't about giving up, nor giving into indifference but telling the truth no matter how evil and ugly it is and that is why I love it.



San Andreas Fault - The album opens with a song comparing a lover to the famous San Andreas fault line in California. It starts as a hopeful song describing someone in favorable terms then the song turns to the dangers of the fault line. This song sets the mood for the album about initial hope only to find out that those hopes may not be what you thought they were and are built on shaky ground.She sings about promises of milk and honey, stardom, paradise, the jet set, and rags to riches. Then underneath the surface we find out about the fault line and the danger underneath. She repeats the line that calls it the "wicked ground", sings about building a dream and tearing it down and finding that it wasn't the paradise you thought it was going to be. You are being warned here that the grass may not always be greener on the other side.

Wonder - Merchant then gives us a song that is upbeat and sweetly optimistic overflowing with hope. It is a song about a gifted child that is a miracle, an amazing creation, a blessing. "With love, with patience and with faith, she'll make her way," she sings about encouraging this child to fulfill her golden destiny. I sometimes wonder if this song isn't about the pressure parents put on children to be a gifted and perfect child but maybe I am missing the mark on this one.

Beloved Wife - Such a painful song. The voice crack at 2:58... If you spent many years, maybe a lifetime with someone and they were the love of your life and then suddenly they were gone this would be the song. This song is about a loss so great that it has you asking how do you gone on afterwards with your own life. The line, "oh I can't believe I lost the very best of me," hits me so hard and illustrates that a great love makes us a better person and not having them makes us less.

River Phoenix
River - While other artists were penning songs to Cobain, Merchant wrote a song dedicated to the actor River Phoenix who had died from a drug overdose in October 1993 on the sidewalk outside the Viper Room in Los Angeles. It was another shocking death that marked the first half of the decade. The song confronts the media spectacle of his death with lines like, "why don't you let him be, he's gone, we know. Give his mother and his father peace. Your vulture's candor, your casual slander. You murder his memory...It's nothing but a tragedy. They'll arrest your soul and body."
I remember River's death and how much of a shock it was even though there had been rumors of his drug use for a long time. He was a remarkable actor, gifted, interesting, beautiful and you thought of him as this generation's most promising actor.
The song is also about letting his fans mourn in peace and claiming him as one of the strong and beautiful one's of our generation: "Let the youth of America mourn, include him in their prayers, let him linger on, repeat it everywhere, with candles with flowers, he was one of ours, one of ours."
This is a song that can bring a tear to the eye if you were around back then, were of the right age and had grown up watching River in movies. It was a lesson in understanding that no matter how young and beautiful a person might be that none of us are invincible. To think of what he could have achieved in his lifetime and how his loss left a void in the cultural landscape is a sad tale very similar to that of Cobain.

Carnival - "I've walked these streets, a virtual stage it seemed to me, makeup on their faces, actors took their places next to me," are the opening lines of this song and we get the impression this song is about the world around us in our everyday lives.This is a song about walking the streets and opening your eyes and seeing the world around you, the world outside yourself. The song is about questioning yourself and not being so inwardly focused, trapped in your own mind and looking at the diversity around you. I love the video of this song too as it features Natalie Merchant as a street photographer and she's out photographing the world around her. As someone that loves photography I see the camera as a tool to look at the world in ways that you may never have realized before.

I May Know The Word - The lyrics tell the story of someone trapped in a state of inaction and indifference. This person knows and sees all these things but never says or acts on them. "But it's all gray to me,"  she sings to show that nothing matters, that it is a dull  lifeless existence. Secretly at night this person is looking for a savior to deliver them from their indifference and to make them stop hiding behind their walls. The extended guitar solo at the end of the song conveys a very tortured feeling. I've intimately known people that suffer this indifference and there is nothing more frustrating and tortuous than what their indifference puts you through.

The Letter - I can imagine myself in this scenario of writing a letter to a past lover or friend. It is very relatable in that you sometimes wish you could reach out to someone but you are afraid of the reaction you might get in return. This is about the emotional struggle of a person going through the conflicting emotions that are left once a relationship ends. This is the most poetic sounding song, the songwriting style here is like a poem set to music, on the album. The song ends on a positive note as the letter writer closes by saying, "if I ever write this letter, the truth it would reveal. Knowing you brought me pleasure, how I'll often treasure moments that we knew, the precious the few." I think if someone from my past ever reached out to me I would be open to reading whatever they had to say even if it wasn't a kind letter. I see this a highly romantic song with the idea that someone took the time and effort to write everything they had been holding back and then decided to share them with that person.

Cowboy Romance - The song that interests me the least because I have zero interest in cowboys and the wild west. A cowboy with promises to a woman in a saloon is what this song is about. I just can't get into this song because it is so different than anything else on this album that it makes no sense here.

Jealousy - This is the most pop sounding song on the album. It's a clever and playful song with a tinge of bitterness. The lyrics poke fun at how perfect their former partner's new boyfriend/girlfriend is from the perspective of the jealous old lover. It hopes for a little satisfaction in the form of sweet revenge with the line, "sometimes tell me while she's touching you, just by mistake, accidentally do you say my name?" I get a smile listening to this song and how the lyrics hope that the new lover reminds your old lover of you. I think we can all relate to this song and the universal desire for a little sweet justice on former lovers that did us wrong.

Where I Go - An acoustic guitar lays a lazy and relaxing sound in a song about escapism. This is a feet up, thinking about the world, thinking about nothing at all kind of song. With lyrics such as: "wander over the crazy days in my mind, watch the river flow where the willow branches grow." "Let the river take it all way,"  this is about going to the river and letting it take all your worries away.

Seven Years - For a conclusion to this marvelous album Merchant throws down this dark, heavy, vengeful song to end it. This is a statement song that is so unforgettable because of her delivery of it and just how brutal it is. This is the voice of a person that has been burned and wounded so deeply by someone they loved with everything they had. When I think about songs about devotion and betrayal this is the first song I think about. This is a song about blind devotion and how a person wakes up and sees the reality of a how person truly is. They see the lies and the betrayal and they are rightfully angry. When she sings, "I might forget you but not forgive," it doesn't get more real and honest about heartbreak than that. This person had put someone on a pedestal, "far above this dirty world, far above everything," only to see it was all an awful lie "damn, you betrayer, how you lied."

Ranking the songs on this album from most favorite to least: Seven Years, Beloved Wife, Carnival, River, The Letter, I May Know The Word, Jealousy, San Andreas Fault, Wonder, Where I Go, Cowboy Romance.

This album has been with me since 1995 and I will listen to it, enjoy it and relate to it for the rest of my life and that is what great music is all about. This was the soundtrack to the Post-Cobain 90's and Natalie Merchant gave Generation X a near perfect effort with TigerLily; a star that fell to Earth.