Doing Femme: Fiona Apple
“I just want to feel everything.”
Fiona Apple’s second album, “When the pawn…” came out in 1999 when I was in nineth grade. I am positive that I bought it because of a review in some teen magazine or other & I maybe had to special order it to the Sam the Record Man at my suburban mall.
I was captivated.
& I was a fourteen year old. I would listen to “When the pawn” in my room late at night after talking to my best friend on the phone for hours. Or on my discman on my walk to school. Or while I did my homework.
I felt an intuitive sense of recognition and… foreboding, I think. It was like I was able to foresee things in those songs about my own young womanhood that I hadn’t yet experienced but could feel were coming.
What I learned from these early albums isn’t groundbreaking to me now as an adult but it was invaluable to me as a young woman. I learned that femininity wasn’t the same as selflessness.
Unlike other friends I have met since, I was raised on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, not Sylvia Plath. The information that a sort of psychic breakage or disturbance or even just anger could be hidden just under the surface of pretty (white, thin) womanhood – that was powerful. I sensed that in myself.
Even today this line from “Fast as you can” is a bit of a femme anthem:
I may be soft in your palm but I’ll soon grow
Hungry for a fight, and I will not let you win
My pretty mouth will frame the phrases that will
Disprove your faith in man
Being a fourteen year old girl is like being forcibly submerged in this cultural narrative about falling in love. It’s a weird time – having no experiential knowledge of this feeling that is so ubiquitously discussed. Falling in love is aimed at young girls like a self-worth destroying weapon. When will it happen to you? What boy will choose you? Do you have the right lip gloss?
I was young then but I was smart. I needed someone who could speak to the terrified & terrifying young lady I knew I would be. It wasn’t the clothes or the dates that would be dangerous. That part I understood. It wasn’t love that was dangerous – it was me.
I learned a lot by listening to “When the pawn…” and finding the resemblances to my own inner life. Absolutely it was so important to for a virgo-oldest-sibling-perfectionist to listen to someone shouting shit like this, from “A Mistake”:
I’ve acquired quite a taste
For a well-made mistake
I wanna mistake why can’t I make a mistake?
I’m always doing what I think I should
Almost always doing everybody good
Do I wanna do right, of course but
Do I really wanna feel I’m forced to
Answer you, hell no
Listening to The Idler Wheel feels like a sequel to When the Pawn… You can still tell that Fiona Apple is writing from the point of mental exhaustion. ”Every single night is a fight with my brain.” Tell me about it lady.
Definitely on The Idler Wheel Fiona Apple is still trying to pry apart any notion that femmes in relationships can be perfect lovers & caretakers. Like this bit of “Daredevil”:
Maybe you let me look out for you
Protect what I found in you
And never let it starve
Then that way, you let me stay
Skirt in my skirt like I want to
And I will try hard to hold onto you with open arms
But don’t let me ruin me
I may need a chaperone
I love these declarative lyrics. I like when feminine selfhood is volatile. When I was 14, & listening to When the Pawn… I thought that the language around craziness and mental health was a metaphor for young womanhood itself. That shit fucks you up.
As an adult who understands about depression I know that there’s nothing metaphorical about it. All of these songs scare me in ways I never knew when I was younger & that’s just why I need them now.
I wasn’t sure how to end this post but I just found this video of “Not about love” where Zach Galifinakis is parodying Fiona Apple’s delivery and it is amazing & you should watch it immediately. We can resume our sullen girlparty some other night. Watching Fiona Apple giggle is kinda the greatest. xox