Grunge. Wu-Tang clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall”. The music of the 90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the time and why is it still important? In our show 60 songs that explain the 90s, Alarm ’90s musician and survivor Rob Harvilla sets out on a quest to answer these questions, one track at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. Below is an excerpt from Episode 54, about Fiona Apple and her first single, “Criminal”, with the help of Alarm editor-in-chief Katie Baker. A warning: This episode features discussions about sexual assault and eating disorders.
Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart was born in New York City in 1977. Her actor father and singer mother met while playing in the Broadway musical. Applause, and separated when Fiona was 4 years old. When Fiona was 7 or 8 years old, she played in a piano recital, playing a composition she had written herself called “The Velvet Waltz”, which she would describe much later to Rolling stone saying, “Oh, my God. It sounds like some kind of gay porn. Fiona struggled in school, with bullies and the like, although Shameika said she had potential. Fiona idolized Maya Angelou. She wrote poems. She kept journals. She wrote songs. She did a three song demo, which she gave to a friend, that the friend gave to a music publicist the friend was keeping, and the publicist gave it to a guy named Andy Slater, who became Fiona’s manager and producer, and also managed and co-produced the Wallflowers.
Can I tell you about the guy this Fiona Apple song is about? Fiona’s ex-boyfriend who inspired the song “Sleep to Dream” and many saltier songs on Tide? More salty as in salt the earth? Inspired feels like the wrong word. The guy who provoked this song? The guy who contracted this song, as we contract a deadly virus that shrinks the penis?
His name is Tyson. Tyson and Fiona met while rollerblading on the Columbia University campus. They dated for two and a half years. He works in the moonlight as an acid-jazz DJ, or at least he did when Rolling stone interviewed him for a Fiona Apple cover story in 1998 about how she wrote a bunch of super angry breakup songs about her. He said, “I remember it was all my fault. Well, 95 percent my fault. I started to see this other girl and like her a bit. And Fiona once said, “I never want to see you again. And then a year later, an album came out. Hahahaha. Hard blow, Tyson!
So Tyson keeps telling this story of going off to college, and one day he kisses a young woman – another young woman – and MTV is on, and the “Sleep to Dream” video comes along, in which Fiona Apple is bubbling over. a replica of her old bedroom and, as Tyson describes it, “Kneeling on the floor, looking through the TV, looking me straight in the eye” as she sings words that remind Tyson of what she said to him the last time they’d spoken.
Tyson had to stop kissing this young woman. Hard break, Tyson. Back then, even if you weren’t aware of any of the proper names or any history whatsoever, when you heard “Sleep to Dream” on the radio or on MTV, it was enough to know you didn’t want to. not be anyone. inspired Fiona Apple to sing: “I’ve never been so insulted in my life.”
I have to say I spent about 25 years being so enamored with “I’ve never been so insulted in my life” that I never fully recorded: “I could swallow the sea to wash away all that pride. . It’s a great line, too. And that, unfortunately, is a central part of the Fiona Apple multimedia experience: focusing on the most obvious thing to the exclusion of all even slightly less obvious things. Reading a Fiona Apple magazine profile or a newspaper interview was about the most dangerous thing you could do in the late 90s. Rollerblading on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was less dangerous. Ideally, when reading these interviews, you would wear a helmet or hazmat suit. the New York Times interviewed Fiona in January 1997, about six months later Tide came out of. The title is “A Message Much Less Pretty Than the Face”. The first two paragraphs read as follows:
“Lips pouting and stung by bees.” The taut and pierced stomach exposed by a ruffled shirt. Cascading honey brown hair. And those eyes. Is this the next waif model? “
“No. [This is the second paragraph.] Turn up the volume on MTV loud enough to hear Fiona Apple sing. She might sound like a cross between Christy Turlington and Kate Moss, but Ms. Apple, a 19-year-old singer and pianist, has a voice and a message that makes her seem out of place.
I don’t want to dwell on it. The tone control of 25-year-old rock star profiles is obnoxious and of limited use. But I have to give you an idea of the bullshit in this world, precisely. People writing about Fiona Apple in 1997, collectively it was just an active, burning volcano decimating YIKES Pompeii. The speech goes from crude frivolity to frightening seriousness on a dime. For example: the message much less pretty than the face, mentioned in this New York Times title, is a reference to the second song of the Tide album, which is called “Sullen Girl”.
At first, at least one interviewer asked Fiona if this song, too, was about a bad breakup. It’s not. Fiona Apple has mentioned in numerous magazine and newspaper profiles that she was raped when she was 12 in her apartment building in New York. Often times she spoke of it in an excruciating way. Its description, in this Rolling stone cover, spans six, seven, eight paragraphs, in vivid and disturbing detail, right down to the number of locks on her apartment door. She had unlocked two out of three. What she said Rolling stone was, “I thought at the end of the day, whatever happens, if I lie about it, I don’t care what it says. ”
And so now, in every interview, Fiona would sit and wait for this to happen. Or she didn’t wait. She said, “I would be, ‘You wanna ask when I was raped?’ I was like, ‘Please don’t act like I have food in my teeth. It is in the open air. It’s not something that bothers me, so don’t act like it’s something that should upset me. Which I think I was sensitive to, because I was embarrassed about it for a long time.
What’s often singularly great, but sometimes really horrible about listening to Fiona Apple sing, is how a random word can blow up the path. word my explode there. The conclusion that many early profiles of Fiona come to – because Fiona explicitly says so – is that she writes her songs less as therapy than just a question. survival. She describes songwriting, in that sense New York Times article, saying, ‘I didn’t think it was a fun thing to do. I thought it was the only thing I could do. ”
To hear the full episode click here, and make sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes of the decade’s most important songs. This excerpt has been edited slightly for clarity and length.