Just a Few More Words About Fiona Apple…

Fiona Apple has been getting fuck tons of music press for her phenomenal fifth record. As a result, I will keep it short.

Note: There has been so much press about Fiona Apple’s new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, that I am honestly completely sick of hearing and thinking about it by the time I actually got around to writing about it. While I deeply enjoyed the interviews I heard and read with her from outlets like the Vulture and Democracy Now, I have found all of the reviews I have read annoying in the extreme; this record is such a free, living thing, and I feel like the press has really kind of talked it to death. I want this album to breathe and bite and climb and “spread like strawberries” over the whole culture and every critic’s opinion, so I have opted instead to write about what I feel the most significant thing about this album is–something I have not seen written about elsewhere.

Early on in college, I remember writing a short essay for this awfully boring Introduction to English Studies class before dropping out and moving to Texas with a dude I had only known for a couple of weeks. The essay was about how we lack language to describe our most intense and most traumatic experiences, and I discussed how this impacts my life as a survivor of chronic childhood sexual abuse that went on for many years. As a child, I spent so much time sitting with a pen and a piece of paper, unable to write down this thing that I most needed to express–the very difficult emotional truth of the chronic abuse I was living with. I didn’t actually figure out fully how I could empower myself through naming my experiences until college, and that is a huge part of why I became an English teacher–I wanted to help other people come to voice in the way that I needed to and struggled to in isolation for so long, earlier in life (since a lot of people never make it to college).

In the essay, I talked about how all of the words we have to describe sexual abuse are insufficient. Even the language of being a “survivor” is uncomfortable. We don’t want to be heroes; we don’t want to be valorized for our suffering; we want to live in a world free of sexual abuse in all its forms. We prefer “survivor,” because we do not want to be victims, but we have been victimized. It does not suffice. Words like “rape” and “molest” make us feel as ugly, damaged, shameful, and vulnerable as the things that were done to us. “Sexual assault” is perhaps the broadest and least triggering way of referring to these experiences, but it also connotes a violent attack of some kind, and a lot of sexually abusive experiences do not involve physical violence necessarily. We have most likely struggled so long to discuss how horrifically common sexual abuse is in this rape culture that we live in centrally because it was so completely normative for so long, but I also think many people never came to voice about these experiences or took a very long time to come to voice about them due to a lack of language that is not re-traumatizing–a lack of language that doesn’t make us feel just as bad as the things that happened to us, or worse.

When I began listening to Fetch the Bolt Cutters, I would listen to it occasionally, in a rotation that featured many other things. Yet despite spending so much time with other music both new and old simultaneously, I would find the most powerful and insistent phrases from this record rising in me as I moved through the world, walking dogs around the city, doing dishes and making coffee in my kitchen, declaring boldly that “I spread like strawberries/I climb like peas and beans.” I would find myself bursting out with the refrain “good morning, good morning/you raped me in the same bed/your daughter was born in/good morning.” And so I thought: how strange. How odd that these things that are extremely unpleasant to discuss, which have kept people suffering in silence for so long, are now so bold, so melodious, so insistent, so liberated, so reclaimed, so powerful, so moving that I am literally walking around this big city singing these difficult truths, and feeling very light as a result, feeling quite gloriously empty and maybe even just a bit more free of them.

I have been a huge Fiona Apple fan for about half of my life at this point. She is far and away one of the greatest singers, songwriters, and musicians of my generation. Her new record is marvelous for many reasons–all of the life oozing out of it, all of the noise, all of the communion and gratitude, amidst all of the rage…all of that palpable healing. It’s also really powerful to be with her as she is finally self-actualizing in this way, if you have kind of been maturing alongside her as a listener, as I have, since I was an adolescent girl. But the most important accomplishment of this record from where I tune in and belt out is to make speaking our difficult truths gorgeous, glorious, and powerful. This is the only music I am aware of that speaks bluntly about sexual trauma, yet feels and sounds like joy and liberation.

Thank you, Fiona Apple, for finally locating this liberatory language around our most traumatic experiences, and for making your own coming to voice an implicit chorus for all of us to better pronounce the difficult truths of our lives.

For those of you who are interested, Fiona’s sophomore record, When the Pawn…, is being pressed on vinyl for the first time and you can order it here. The new album can also be ordered here. Very worthy your time and attention, all of it!!!


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