Seam Editions

Left Alone by Jake Reynolds

Left Alone by Jake Reynolds is a piece of creative-criticism which examines the work of Fiona Apple and artist-audience proximity.



'Ah, man. I didn’t prepare a speech and I’m sorry but I’m glad that I didn’t because I’m not gonna do this like everybody else does it. Cause everybody that I should be thanking - I’m really sorry, but I have to use this time. See, Maya Angelou said that we as human beings, at our best, can only create opportunities. And I’m gonna use this opportunity the way I wanna use it. So what I wanna say is, everybody out there that’s watching this world, this world is bullshit. And you shouldn’t model your life - wait a second - you shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool and what we’re wearing and saying and everything. Go with yourself. Go with yourself.'
- Fiona Apple, on accepting the ‘Best New Artist’ award at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards


INTERVIEWS
HOW IS YOUR VOCABULARY SO ILLFiona Apple
what’s the WORST THING a critic has said about youFiona Apple
do you ever worry you’re TOO YOUNG for this Fiona Apple
do you go ANYWHERE AT ALLFiona Apple
explain what you MEANFiona Apple
have you HARDENED Fiona Apple
WHAT DO YOU DO when you’re onlineFiona Apple
I request an inventoryFIONA APPLE

What does it mean to ‘request an inventory’ from Fiona Apple? It could be what happens when someone on a TV show is pressed into emptying their bag in front of an assembled group of onlookers. The group is looking for something very particular. It could be a case of theft: a wallet might thump onto the table, thick with cash. The theft could be comical: a gold bullion might bounce out, hitting the table at the same time as a pack of tissues.

But if they are looking for something which at first glance appears to hold no significance for the gathering, it starts to look absurd, and even threatening.

If the thing is particularly personal to the bag-owner, or something they consider private, the request for an inventory is particularly bruising. An embarrassingly ambitious number of condoms might fall from the adolescent’s bag—

only fourteen
but forget them
for now—
or it might be a teddy bear with sentimental value, or a Z-list celebrity’s autobiography checked out of the library.

Before Wikipedia helps introduce Fiona Apple (which it will, in its all-or-nothing way, in a moment), I want to stay with the inventory request. It’s a strange demand, and one that has plagued Apple all her working life. Because there is something particular to Fiona Apple as a musician, something that makes her music particularly special, heartfelt, striking.

This is her engagement with the artist-audience relationship (which will exist wherever there is an artist with an audience), and particularly the ongoing tension between proximity and distance in this relationship, which has shifted throughout her career like the ebb and flow of a tide.


/you are a fourteen-year-old slamming your bedroom door shut. For whatever reason you had heaps of condoms in your rucksack. You can take them from the big glass bowls at the GPs. You have just been humiliated. You throw the bag on the floor and lie on your bed. Life is being unfair to you and you want more adults to understand this. You don’t want to leave the house ever again. But tomorrow there’s a family reunion. It will be awful. But enough/

People lie when they look other people in the eye and say they want to know them. But they try anyway:


FIONA APPLE ACCORDING TO WIKIPEDIA, FONT OF KNOWLEDGE
whose name isn’t even APPLEbut MCAFEE-MAGGARTwhich everybody
is entitled to know by virtue of their boredomwhose birthplace is Manhattan
big enough to replicate herewhose photograph is in black and white
whose youth is supposedly vitalwhose age is its own obsessiontrapped
in itselfwhose family is presumably loving in some ways and not very loving in other
more important wayslike mine like ourswhose active years are still washing
over everyone like sunlightwhose record label controversyis a big enough rift
to warrantgeneral-overview stuff
whose private lifeis a hyperlink
whose veganismis my problem
whose doghas its reasons
whose discographyflirts with ellipses...


‘It doesn’t get into the writing. It’s a boring pain. It’s such a fucking old pain that, you know, there’s nothing poetic about it.’
*

[cue: ‘Criminal’]

In the music video for ‘Criminal’, the third single from her debut album Tidal and the one that propelled her to stardom, the opening shot shows Apple holding a camera like she’s taking a picture of the camera filming her. If I jump to the immediate conclusion – that she is taking a picture of me, the viewer – I know at least that her camera must burrow its way through the camera lens protecting me before it can lock on to my eyes. It looks like she’s right in front of me.

She takes the picture and looks at me – no, at the screen – with red eyes.But that’s not what I want.

/the big family reunion. You hate this. Your clothes are uncomfortable and you want to go home. Everyone is assembling for a big family photo. The kind that will be framed on the mantelpieces of great aunts and uncles you don’t really know. But the wannabe-memento from today is useless if Aunt Jane has red eyes in the first photograph, because who wants to remember her like that? Everyone would turn that copy down. Aunt Jane has nice, thoroughly human eyes. They did their job in making her appear real, even in copies/

Fiona, that’s a bad copy. I’d never put that shot in the music video. It makes everything look less real.

But music videos are only approximations of what is real, so really her obvious ‘unreality’ is precisely what makes the whole clip so real. It’s precisely why it feels like she is looking right at me.

Bad copy/first draft/first copy/one and only.

/Aunt Jane comes out looking all demonic. Part of you thinks everyone should keep it and move on. It’s not what Aunt Jane would want, but you don’t always get what you want either. You didn’t want seven people to empty your bag in front of you. Oh well. It still happened. The point is, as the camera is raised to an eye for the second time, you know that whichever photograph will adorn mantelpieces will never have been the first attempt. It will never be the product of the first time that camera met that eye in this setting with these people smiling. You will always know that the capture of this moment in time took two, three, four, attempts/
*

I’ve been a bad, bad girl

Apple dives into the song’s opening lyrics.

I’ve been careless with a delicate man

Every screengrab of one of Apple’s music videos comes from YouTube, the comments section of which is densely populated with the delicate men Apple appears to be mentioning.

Confused by and perhaps enraged at Apple’s sexual confidence, the video appears to be emblematic of something they can’t quite put their finger on. So they leave comments. The comments are, by and large, aggressive assertions of their own heterosexual masculinity, many of which fixate on Apple as a body and nothing else. Her red eyes, the very picture of her being not-there, helps them with this. The fact she has just taken a photograph of the viewing screen makes it more difficult. The delicate men have been captured, just as Apple’s eyes turn red as though she was never really ‘there’.

They write that Apple has ‘hips like a 12 year old boy’ and is ‘so fucking hot and dirty’. Others are far more aggressive and profane.

Many of these delicate men came along for a perfect copy. They probably thought they deserved a perfect copy. Yet before she even sings a line, Apple has documented their process of viewing while also undermining and asserting herself as an ‘original’ all at once.

/say cheese! It’s too hot and you want to go. It’s ridiculous, waiting for the ‘right moment’ like this. It only confirms that perfection is either a) impossible, b) random, or c) dependent on when the family gives the social consensus that enough is enough and the picture will do. You’re smiling on the outside but you don’t want to be captured, not like this. You don’t like how you look, not today. Not really any day. But here you are/

Amongst the aggressive comments on Apple’s ‘Criminal’ video, there is a singularly fascinating exchange:

John Doe writes,

John Doe
This is my second marriage proposal to a random artist that doesn’t give a shite... still I really mean it this time!

To which yum yum replies,

yum yum
Find a nice girl, any monkey can nail two pieces of wood together and call themselves an “artist” and some monkey would buy it. Sounds like you are focusing on high maintenance broads who end up being turds anyways... BTW, I am a married and older broad. Don’t waste your time on bitches. Had three marriage proposals and gave back all three diamond rings. Finally found a man and soulmate at 35. Don’t ever settle ... a cautionary tale for boys and girls.
*
A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
I might find it in Grimmif this was a dust-cloud leather-bound oil-lamp affair
on the sideof a bushad this been an urban legend (you wait for one...)
blackened into toastif strings connoteraptureand carbon
I might find it writtenin starsstashing hash moments before your capture
safe in the border of a blood-red linesignpostinghad I ever been one for rules
unspooling from under the beardof a cartoon guruhalf-eel half-soup
in a songa background song in a wine bar‘I would’ve warned you
but really what’s the point...caution couldbut rarely everhelps.’

Caution could but rarely ever helps. Slipping itself into the second verse of Apple’s song ‘To Your Love’, from 1999’s When the Pawn..., the sentiment is gifted to the listener. Apple sounds hoarse and world-weary at just twenty-two and yet the album is packed with aphorisms and pseudo-cautions. The cautionary tale is evidently one that throws caution out of the window. Apple is upfront, brash, and open to (and with) her audience.
You wanna lick my wounds, don’t you baby?
she coos on ‘Limp’, before the song descends into a growling whirligig of sound, and her
fingers turn to fists... I never did anything to you, man.

When I hear that song, I invent a subject. A user on Genius.com describes, in almost comically vanilla terms, how the song features Apple wrestling with ‘the rude behaviour of her lover’.

Why? Why invent a subject? Simply put, nobody wants to have insults hurled at them when they listen to an album. (Some of the best music does provoke and interrogate its listeners, but it’s safe to say this is a fairly niche market to tap into.)

Apple’s proximity to her audience is one she knows will be embraced and dismissed at will. ‘Limp’ speaks to this complex artist-audience relationship well. Take the song’s second verse:

You feed the beast I have within me
You wave the red flag, baby you make it run, run, run
Standing on the sidelines, waving and grinning
You fondle my trigger, then you blame my gun

The tone is almost goading; the song would lose significant power if Apple’s response to the listener/subject ‘fondling the trigger’ was simply rage, or upset, or exasperation. Instead the perverse investment the listener has is nourishing.

The tone is almost goading; the song would lose responses subject trigger

The tone is lost subject hurt instead

Goading perverse investment


LOVE RIDDEN, I've looked at you...
/the family reunion moved, unbelievably, uncharacteristically for your family, to a jazz bar. Love ridden, the pianist is probably just reading their sheet music but, sitting directly behind it, you cannot be sure that they aren’t staring right at you. Love ridden, you try to rid yourself of everything. What is this song? Love ridden, you hate how you asked your mother for orange juice when coke could at least feasibly harbour alcohol. Love ridden, you associate kisses on the cheek with your grandmother. Love ridden, you think you stink. Love ridden, you can’t stop looking at the instant printout from the first failed reunion photograph. For whatever reason it has been kept. Love ridden, you look bad. Love ridden, everything the pianist plays could be Clair de Lune for all you know and you’d still have nothing to say. Love ridden, they are maybe thirteen years older than you. Love ridden, it’s just because there’s a face idling time away. Love ridden, they play for themselves. Love ridden, they play for the distinct echoes in this corner of the room. Love ridden, they play for the waiter. Love ridden, they do not, and you feel never will, play for you/

WAKEY WAKEY

/someone is calling you. Another newspaper clipping your aunt has framed/
*

The tension between Apple’s proximity/distance with her audience extends beyond individual comments left on a YouTube video.

Interview Magazine says ‘Apple has always been drawn to extremes.’ A straight-faced Rolling Stone charts her progression from ‘waif’ to ‘killer bitch’. Rolling Stone also notes that Apple ‘knows the bipolar swings of stardom’. The New York Times opens an interview with Fiona Apple with the sentence ‘FIONA APPLE was angry.’ A 1997 feature on Apple by that same publication runs with the headline ‘A Message Far Less Pretty Than The Face’. It describes Apple’s ‘pouty bee-stung lips’ (pouty isn’t enough; a soft, latent violence is unnervingly imposed here), ‘taut pierced belly’ (more violence. Everything is penetrated) and ‘cascading honey-brown hair’ in its first two lines. Time Out, in its first sentence preceding an interview with Apple, mentions two high-profile men she has dated. Baeble Music likes Apple’s ‘best, most quirky Zooey Deschanel look’. When W Magazine meets Apple it notes her ‘sinewy arms’. Fact characterises Apple’s interview with Marc Maron on the latter’s WTF podcast as ‘manic’ and ‘revealing’. Spin asserts that ‘Fiona Apple presents herself as damaged goods’. Q opens its 2000 feature of Apple with the sentence ‘Therapised and raped by the age of 12, famous and alienated by the music industry at 19, Fiona Apple is feeling better, thank you.’

The sadness is that the sexism and misogyny Apple has faced throughout her career has been depressingly normalised. But the media’s hyper-obsession with Apple as a tormented mind and/or body is significant in any exploration of the artist-audience relationship.


feeling better, thank you

honey & lemon that’s something I can chuck
in a cup and take anywhere no questions asked

& when asked (always inevitably eventually asked)
I exhale through my nose and slam my book

open face-down spine-creased on the armchair
then perform the cog-work of my working body

the human dance of my functional right-here body
honey & lemoned upright & no questions asked
*

/fiːˈəʊnə/

fee-oh-nuh

fiona


Fiona.

/your distant uncles and aunts and whoever are getting drunk for what looks like the first time in years/

Fiona Apple.

/you heard ‘Paper Bag’ in Topshop. Your friend was dragging you round. You hate places like that. It’s like everyone is looking at you. It was one of the hottest days of the year and you were sweating. You can’t remember who ‘Paper Bag’ was by. You can’t actually remember the name of the song. I’m telling you it’s ‘Paper Bag’ but you can’t hear me. The later it gets, the busier the jazz bar is. You hum that little song to yourself.

so bad, oh it kills

you don’t know her name yet but soon you will. Fiona. Fiona listened and watched you and made her song come on like magic. She built a crossbow so she could hit you with her music because she thought you needed it. The creak as it stretches and bears its load. Fiona makes music into four-minute crossbows. Thunk. It embeds itself in you like it has always belonged there. You hum the little earworm for weeks

you thought for a second that your listening to the song was the song itself coming home
and that, for you, was a brand new responsibility not homeowner but home
you have always wanted to house something have something comfortable settle in you/

Fiona speaks so clearly. Every word feels important. Everything sounds so perceptive it might put people on edge. The older the listener gets the more they realise it wasn’t just them hoping to pin her down to one place, space, or time. It’s so reductive, it’s a nightmare. But it’s human. Every interview, article and think-piece holds at its heart an attempt to locate her. I don’t know what to think when some passages refer to her as “Apple”

(respect / detachment / intellect / sourness)

and others refer to her as “Fiona”.

(over-familiarity / nonchalance / boredom / condescension)

Everything is caught up in proximity. Even when I turn the music off and the channel between Fiona’s voice and my ears is closed, it’s tempting to still try and pin things down in the silence. I always think I work better without any music playing.

How can she have recorded, at seventeen, a piece of music like Tidal? I get caught up in the fantasy that somebody is extra-special because it’s what books and television have taught me. I want someone to be more than just a child in the reproductive chain.

Humans let me down so I say Fiona is superhuman. I still might not know her but for the first time I’ve started calling her Fiona instead of Apple, because this is the point of no return and it’s comforting to pretend I know her a little better now I have read her name over and over and over.

How does she do it? She gets on, like everyone else. The aggression and confrontation in some of the songs is housed in spare, vulnerable and intimate live shows. I look for extremes wherever I go. I’m only human. Her being born in Manhattan makes no sense and all the sense in the world. It’s too big and dramatic.

It’s big, dramatic.

It fits the picture, it smashes the frame.
Fiona. Fiona. What’s in a name?


F I O N A


A popular Scottish name, Fiona has a frighteningly
concrete origin. The letters were cobbled together
by two Scottish poets working decades apart.

James Macpherson is allegedly the first,
inventing the name Fiona
for his Ossian cycle of epic poems (1760 onwards).

Over a hundred years later,
William Sharp took the name on
as a pseudonym: Fiona Macleod.

According to medievalscotland.org,

‘The name did not exist, and so could not have been used, previous to this.’

Not the creation story I had hoped for. As a name I secretly wanted Fiona to be a mystery. It would be nice to see a ‘name meanings’ webpage spare and full of ‘allegeds’ and ‘citation neededs’. The fact that a couple of poets cobbled it together is something, but not enough. The fact it was ‘made’ by two men is enough to want to bury its origins forever in case Rolling Stone or MTV get wind of it.

The name is only around sixteen years older than the United States of America.

*
A fight with my brain

I’d say
that I’ve been
reclusive
for the last
thirty-four
years.

I’m gonna try
to be still—

“I have show
stomach” which feels
like the flu.

Swelling
to blazes
I am
what I am—

I think
I’m better
at live shows
than I used
to be.

This is going to sound morbid but when I’m not with my dog I pretend she is already dead.
*

In the nightmarish music video for ‘Every Single Night’, the opening song from The Idler Wheel... (2012), the skeleton crew are present throughout. This isn’t necessarily a breaking of the fourth wall. It’s more of a total disregard for the wall. In the opening shot, bathed in sickly light, Fiona looks down as a hand breaches the frame and arranges a rubber octopus perched atop her head.

The intrusions become more and more obvious. At several points the crew hold lights above Fiona.

How does this affect the artist-audience relationship here? On the one hand, Fiona inches closer to the listener (and, in this case, viewer). The music feels more present and intimate when the bare bones of the video crew are revealed. There is something honest about the video when I gain access to its workings. Listen to me! the video demands.

The VMA speech from over a decade ago floats back in spots of eyelid light. ‘This world is bullshit.’

I know it’s a shoot, I know people are being paid to make this happen. So here they are. I have to get past it. I have to listen. I believe what I hear. She’s saying it to me.

But flip the coin and suddenly the safe, amniotic world of the music video is burst, and what could have been a sealed vision of Fiona and the listener/watcher becomes a frank admission that Fiona has a crew, the crew are there to make the video look as good as it can so it can get as many views online as possible, there are many more people just like me who are going to watch this video and experience something similar.

At once, the music is closer and further away. The video was made fifteen years after the release of ‘Criminal’, and while Fiona is no longer the one holding the camera, the question of who is watching (am I watching the video process, or is it assembling itself to watch me?) is just as uncertain.

Then, at the very end, once the song has finished playing, Fiona fixes the camera with an incredibly brief, almost embarrassed, smile. In under a second her eyes move away from the watching eye. The result is puzzling.

For a moment I think she’s realised the absurdity of it all – the skeleton crew, the camera, the ridiculous process of shooting a music video. Blink and I’ll miss it. Her eyes resting on the camera is the closest I, the viewer, feel to the artist in the whole video. I feel ever so briefly in agreement with Fiona. I feel complicit. All of this is slightly silly. She and I both know.

But Fiona doesn’t leave it there. Where something is given, something will be taken away. As if the eye (human/camera) contact was an awkward accident, she looks off screen while maintaining the self-conscious, faintly embarrassed grin.

I feel ridiculous. There is the faint suggestion that I am being laughed at. You made it this far? Why? The music is over...

What was all that?orWhat am I still doing here?

The ‘proximity tension’ is lyrically omnipresent throughout The Idler Wheel...

LEFT ALONE
I can love the same man in the same bed in the same city
But not in the same room, it’s a pity...

HOT KNIFE
He makes my heart a cinemascope screen
Showing a dancing Bird of Paradise...

DAREDEVIL
Seek me out
Look at, look at, look at me
I’m all the fishes in the sea...

VALENTINE
I’m amorous but out of reach
A still life drawing of a peach...

*
STILL LIFE DRAWING OF A PEACH
missing its essential sinking properties
I could lob it into a too-still lake

listen out then mourn the beads
of oxygen held close to furs

picking the soft leaf I lose the stalk
with a finger-thumb twist and pop

listen out then mourn the loss
of what made the thing connected

reaching out I have severed
the fruit from its ongoing chain

then cringing to an awful rot
at the centrefold of its life-crease

I am not at all ready to care
for anything, let alone myself
*

‘That signature thing
Is only growing harrowing...’

/fourteen years old and you only had the stupid condoms because you have a crush and you know nothing will happen and you know you are too young and nowhere near ready but getting them feels like a distant nightmare so it’s good to just stock up for a couple of years just in case. Being fourteen you see it everywhere, the weird stomach pain of it. The crush, not the person. In the supermarket, on the beach, in stupid jazz bars. You’ve started going there after school to hear the song again but in the afternoons there is no piano player and they have Petula Clark playing over and over on the speakers for some reason. The crushing feeling rears its head and fills you with a distant groaning ache.

You wish you’d asked somebody what the pianist was playing. You wish you could remember the song that was playing in Topshop.

You hurry home to write imaginary letters to the one you think you might be falling in love with. At first you try and type it all up but it doesn’t feel right, it feels all cold. What is the warmest font? Baskerville makes you feel like a detective leaving a clue. Calibri makes you feel like a teaching assistant. Times New Roman makes you feel like someone with bad news.

So you delete the document. No use. You open your bedside drawer and rummage around for a notebook someone bought for you one Christmas. You grab a pen and give it a shot.

Writing by hand, you feel more human. Everything you write is stupid and makes you want to hit yourself in the face.

You give it up for now.

Hunger hurts... that Topshop song. You’ve had enough. You hum it in front of your father in case he knows it.

As a matter of fact, he does. Thingy Apple. He says she has a voice like too much salt. He used to have a crush on her. Of course he did. He used to have a crush on everyone. It’s just a thing dads say. You make a mental note to look out for her music.

Three days later and the letters still look rubbish. Even though you know (you are certain) you will never send them, or show them, to anyone, it’s still distressing to see smudges of ink and crossed-out words. You’re too used to being able to delete everything at will and return to the white space. Here, your mistakes – the most authentic thing you have, and isn’t that depressing – stick out like squashed flies/
/you wonder if anyone kept the first reunion photograph, the bad copy/
/you never see the working-out, which is, as your maths teacher is always saying,the most important bit. It shows everyone that you are interested and au fait with the process rather than the artifice of the finished product or ‘answer’. Handwriting looks off-the-cuff but is, if anything, more orchestrated than the typed word/

Hopeless. Who would have started the paragraph like that? Far too dry.

If I think enough I am unsure of everything. Are those scribbles contrived? Was that all orchestrated?

/you keep trying to write but what you mean isn’t coming out/

When I write by hand, things sometimes come out misspelled or smudged or near-illegible. I start viewing the crosses and strikethroughs through the eyes of the intended recipient. They start to look contrived.

The proximity (you, reading/me, writing) is just the product of my imagining. Fiona’s music is a mirage, making me think she’s right there behind me. The artist-audience relationship works for me, works for her. It lets me down, it lets her down.

Say the handwriting on the album covers for The Idler Wheel... and When the Pawn... are third, fourth, fifth, attempts. Somewhere the ‘original’ is lying around. It might be in an envelope, or plastic wallet. It might have been recycled into toilet paper. It might be pulped and rotting somewhere in a wasteland.

Everything is orchestrated.

Where do I lie on the line between cynicism and optimism? The above scanned portion of my handwriting looks ugly. On the upper-right corner a segment of arrow has been included. The bottom-right corner bears a touch of shadow. On the left-hand side I can see the edge of the page. Is this accidental – true to the process of my writing it – or did I do it deliberately just to make a point?

And does it matter?

*
SHADOWBOXER
Love with a capital L is the person I pretend I’m not
swinging for it I undulate pristine like a hammock
shadowboxing the lawn with my crescent of dark
give me absence cropped out like a Love heart

when I and you and all the people that we Love
say I AM STRONG LIKE MUSIC it’s enough
just enough to well something up in me
like Love is Lovely is acid reflux

when I ready my heart to make it steadier
Love I Love it I’ve never been unreadier
*
EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE
The person I thought I was is better than this
shit, slumped stoned in a hammock in summer
until a crescent moon lights up my glitches
constituent parts click with my absent power source

then sitting up like the people who love me
have thrown a YES YOU ARE EXTRAORDINARY party
enough to screw up (something up) the time
spent lying back thinking hard of unloveliness

when I ready my heart I return to the dream
where my heart requests an extraordinary machine
*
/hunger hurts... you’ve found it. Paper Bag. I thought it was a bird but it was just a paper bag... you’re listening to it for the eighth time. You can’t wait to go for a walk while listening to it. You think you’ll feel powerful.

So much to get through. Soon you’ll find the song played at the jazz bar. A part of you knows it must be her. A bigger part of you knows this isn’t the movies, and the song will be lost to you. You push it to the back of your mind.

The good photos have finally come through, dad says.

Took them long enough. A perfect fourth copy.

Your family needed several attempts just to smile correctly. You think you were born into bad genes.

Fiona Apple. She was making music before you were born. That makes you feel cool.

Sunday night. Worst time of the week. It’s dark already and you’ve made your way through Tidal, When the Pawn..., and Extraordinary Machine. You feel like a proper teenager, doing things proper teenagers do in movies. You search for Fiona Apple posters online so you can have one above your bed, and when anyone – if anyone – comes round they’ll ask who it is and you’ll turn your head – you’ll already know but you’ll turn your head – and you’ll say it so perfectly, so casually:

Oh, that’s Fiona Apple. Favourite singer. Check her out.

You feel like a part of something, or you at least feel like you’re in on something. For a brief, dazzling moment you realise you never want to get older.

Then the moment fades and you regret ever thinking it.

Extraordinary Machine comes to an end. You queue up The Idler Wheel.... Your homework can wait. That dazzling moment flexes in its own light. It’s a bit like being caught in a sunbeam when spring returns.

You feel as though Fiona is channelling an older version of yourself. Even if the words don’t fit, that’s alright. There’s just something in her voice. It reminds you of the cartoons you used to watch where there was an angel sitting on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Well, Fiona is like the mediator, keeping them both in check. But she is friends with them both and says they both make valid points.

And that’s okay because it feels human.

It feels exceptionally human, and that feels good. It feels good, all of a sudden, to be angry at things. To feel hurt. To feel upset and shout about it.

You start to worry that as soon as the music ends all of this will go away.

It’s a bad feeling. But it’s also nice, because it makes the listening time mean more. You feel like you’re starting to get music in the way adults go on about.

Something about love. Your crush already feels distant and silly. Another one is at work, you fear. Layering up like sediment. Or something like erosion. How people just age and grind down.

You’ve been writing. Writing by hand and it feels real. You barely notice until you see the smudge of ink on your finger. You’ve written pages and pages and pages. Fiona’s been looking over your shoulder but you don’t mind her seeing. Then at the end of each song she feels so far away. Or you do.

Then, the last track from The Idler Wheel...

You’re giddy with disbelief. Things like this don’t happen in real life. You feel like you could be on TV, the chances are so small. But if you were on TV, people watching wouldn’t even be surprised. Because this is the sort of moment you thought could only happen in stories.

It’s the song you have been searching for/
*

I’m back on YouTube. ‘Hot Knife’ is the final song on Fiona’s fourth full-length album, and at the time of writing is the last music video filmed for a solo Apple song (published July 2013).

The song is an intensely intimate portrait of human chemistry and desire. Fiona’s sister, a cabaret singer, joins her as vocal tracks pile up until the listener can almost feel the friction of words rubbing up against one another.

Phrases build up, nudging each other as they settle to find their place in the song. For one of Fiona’s most intimate songs, I’d expect the video to return to the visual tricks and cues.

Throughout the four-minute video, Fiona is only a glance away from looking at the camera (‘me’).

In the music videos made throughout her career, she looks at the camera in the following:

  • ‘Criminal’ (from Tidal)
  • ‘Shadowboxer’ (from Tidal)
  • ‘Sleep to Dream’ (from Tidal)
  • ‘Never is a Promise’ (from Tidal)
  • ‘The First Taste’ (from Tidal)
  • ‘Paper Bag’ (from When the Pawn...)
  • ‘Fast as You Can’ (from When the Pawn...)
  • ‘Limp’ (from When the Pawn...)
  • ‘O’ Sailor’ (from Extraordinary Machine)
  • ‘Parting Gift’ (from Extraordinary Machine)
  • ‘Not About Love’ (from Extraordinary Machine)
  • ‘Every Single Night’ (from The Idler Wheel...)

‘Hot Knife’ is the only music video from a song of any album track of Fiona’s in which she does not look at the camera even once.





/the first copy of the family reunion photograph has gone missing.

School rush. Presentation week. You rush around, scrabbling for everything. The rush is worth it for ten minutes’ extra sleep.

A five-minute oral presentation on someone who interests you.

Fiona Apple is someone who interests you, but there’s so much to say. You can’t do it in five minutes. Besides, you don’t want the bug to catch on. You want the music to be something you can return to alone.

There is virtue, you have found, in being left alone.

Aunt Jane isn’t interesting. So why did you choose her?

Because look, you tell your class. The thought of presentation week used to knot up your stomach. It still does, to an extent. But you care more, at least, about what you’re saying. You care more about how you’re saying it.

Because look at this. You unfold the photograph, the first copy. Aunt Jane wanted to get rid of it because of her red eyes.

In the ‘proper’ one, the eventual one, she’s not even looking at the camera. She knew that this photograph was the original – the first time the lens closed over these people – but she still wanted to do it again. And again.

I don’t necessarily see how this makes your Aunt Jane interesting, your teacher says.

I don’t mind if you don’t see, you reply. Stifled laughter. But you make it clear you’re not being rude. I don’t mind, you say, and you shouldn’t mind either. The point is that she isn’t interesting because of her job, or interests, or past. I think she’s boring. But only recently did I think that this is what made her interesting. Making this decision, ordering that another photo was taken.

Public speaking makes you giddy. It does anyone, you think. Afterwards you feel so sick and yet so elated it’s like dancing in your bedroom in the height of summer. You feel like you need a drink.

Next up, Winston Churchill. An Interesting Person. For the third time. The photograph bends like cloth at the crease and slides into your pocket.

What happens next might be a practical joke, or a tease, or maybe even a ghost. You still feel dazed after it has happened.

Because you are certain that you feel the warmth of a palm press lightly against your back, but when you look around, nobody is there.

It’s easy to think someone has just pressed a note to your back. In fact, that’s the likeliest scenario.

So what is this warmth?

Is it the knowing the sign is there? Or the fact you don’t care about removing it? Is it something entirely new?

Is new ‘the first time’?

Is that it, settling in you, on your walk home?

Is that it, the whir and click?

The sound of her voice, cutting through air?/
/the end/






NOTES

All images of Fiona Apple are screengrabs taken from music videos for the songs ‘Left Handed Kisses’ (by Andrew Bird, feat. Apple), ‘Criminal’, ‘Every Single Night’, and ‘Hot Knife’.

The poem ‘Interviews’ uses quotes from interviews with Kanye West, Pitchfork, Time Out, and Quentin Tarantino.

The quote starting 'It doesn't get into the writing...' comes from an interview with Q.

The YouTube comments are genuine (and still present as of 20/02/17).

The poem ‘Love Ridden’ takes its name, and first line, from the Fiona Apple song of the same name.

‘A fight with my brain’ uses lyrics from Apple’s ‘Every Single Night’ and quotes from a 2013 interview with Pitchfork.

All handwriting is my own.

‘Shadowboxer’ and ‘Extraordinary Machine’ take their titles from Apple’s songs of the same name.