Monday, June 6, 2005

Mary and Aimee

I'm sure I'm not the first to say this but I think I'm in love with Mary Lucia. It would probably be enough that everybody's favorite local radio personality is a sheepish owner of three cats but there was a moment on a recent show that made me laugh harder than I've laughed in many a year.

Ms. Lucia was interviewing the songwriter of a local band (I forget which band) and asked him a great, though somewhat Barbara Waltersesque question, "Are there any songs out there that you wish you had written?"

The local artist thought for a moment and then said, "Yes. I wish I had written Burt Bacharach's 'Trains and Boats and Planes.'" Ms. Lucia then replied, "Hmmm. Do you also wish you had married Dionne Warwick?" The chiding, lyrical, playful tone to her voice was pitch perfect and the band and the songwriter chuckled at the spontaneous question and I nearly had to pull my car over I was laughing so hard.

Yet the only complaint I have so far about Ms. Lucia's station 89.3 (THE CURRENT!) is there has been far too much Aimee Mann. Judging by the amount of air time Aimee has gotten, man the DJ's seem to adore her music.

Not that I dislike Aimee Mann's music. I always kind of thought Til Tuesday was head and shoulders above other like bands from the same time who got far more acclaim (Crowded House for one) and Mann's solo work has been consistently rewarding. Her contributions to the Magnolia soundtrack are equal parts soul searching, soul saving, and soulfully devastating.

Aimee will also always occupy a soft spot in my heart for her appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the episode her band was playing at the Bronze when a vampire fell from the rafters above and landed with a splat, disintegrating into dust. The band stops playing. and then picks up the song exactly where they left off. Later as they are leaving the bar Aimee deadpans, "That's why I hate playing vampire towns."

My complaint is more based on I haven't heard all that much Liz Phair or Lucinda Williams on 89.3, everyone's favorite public radio music station, and there are a slew of mostly overlooked artists who for me far outshine Aimee Mann.

No Aimee isn't one of those artists whose each and every new release I make an effort to rush out to hear. And when I read several lukewarm reviews to her new CD, The Forgotten Arm, I wasn't exactly inclined to go seek out the new music.

I read that Forgotten Arm was a "theme CD" that told a story of a down and out boxer. Seeing that my most favorite recent movie was Million Dollar Baby and my favorite TV show from the past season was The Contender one would almost think that I have somehow become a boxing fanatic and that Mann's CD would be something I'd automatically want to hear. But beat me up with a padded glove and add to my misery, I really didn't see any need to complete the obvious triangle that lay down before me.

I was wrong. I wish I hadn't waited so long in buying The Forgotten Arm. Mann's writing is its usually sharp self and her sad sardonic vocals add to the story but the overall impact of the blows struck surprised me. This isn't kid's stuff and it's probably my favorite story based CD since Frank Sinatra's Watertown. It surely kicks Lou Reed's similar attempts like Songs for Drella and Magic and Loss all over the musical mat.

The CD packs a subtly powerful punch. The thread of the story details the disintegration of a couple. The boxer is a boozer. He's taken one too many hits, lost one too many fights and there's substance abuse that leads to emotional abuse and the couple's love has long since ceased to mean much at all to either participant. The couple is trying to figure out where to go, what to do even if it's long past time, way too far down the road where things can possibly work out ever again.

Though the CD is more than a bit of a downer, line after line, song after song build a picture and one begins to understand why this is a story the artist wanted to tell. "Life just kind of empties out, less a deluge than a drought, less a giant mushroom cloud than an unexploded shell..." and "Tell you I'm sorry that I made you a witness to my moral decay..." and "We stayed in our Calvins, and we swore we'd be best friends. And I looked through the zoom lens, and thought you were beautiful. Sometimes it hurts me to feel so much tenderness..."

The packaging of the CD is great. It's laid out to look like a pulp fiction novel and the hand drawn pencil sketches that accompany each song's (chapter's) lyrics skillfully match the mood of Mann's voice. The songs might be able to stand on their own but repeated listening reveals that each piece adds to the whole like fine china stacked neatly in its nearly empty wooden cupboard.

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