David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 84: Aimee Mann (Deathly)

July 19, 2020

This time it's personal. During a span of 10 days or so, when everything -- personal, professional, local, regional, national, universal -- drains me, I play my first "get out of jail free" card with the 365 artists in 365 songs series. This one is easy, easy like Sunday morning, or at least Sunday afternoon as I put the finishing touches on this blog.

Aimee Mann's "Deathly" may be the greatest song I have ever heard. I say "may be," because any day of the week it could lose out to a few others: Miracle Legion's "The Backyard," The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," or The Blue Aeroplanes' "Your Ages." Really just depends what I need most that day.  The last few days and the last couple of weeks, I need "Deathly." Rather sobering, if you think about it.

Oh, to rue what is coming true. "Now that I've met you/would you object to/never seeing each other again," Mann croons from the outset of "Deathly," a sentiment that says it all about regret, about wishing one had never opened a door. That line serves as a cornerstone in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 film, Magnolia, uttered by an emotionally damaged woman on a first date. The woman's vulnerability (aided by John C. Reilly's character's calmness) tears up the scene. No one captures vulnerability musically better than Aimee Mann, the same woman who cried out, "he said, 'shut up, oh God, can't you keep it down'" at the end of 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry," one of the most underappreciated moments of vulnerability ever in a song.

We all feel so damn vulnerable these days. The mantras are predictable: I'm vulnerable because I need to wear a mask; I'm vulnerable because I refuse to wear a mask; I'm vulnerable because I'm an essential worker; I'm vulnerable because I am not an essential worker; I'm vulnerable because my family needs me to be strong; I'm vulnerable because I am not strong for my family; I'm vulnerable because I can't sleep; I'm vulnerable because I want only to sleep; I'm vulnerable because I see no future; I'm vulnerable because I can see the future.

When we're vulnerable, where should we turn?  Art.  And not necessarily Garfunkel, although his ability to harmonize is helpful. I digress. Let's get back to what is "Deathly" -- 2020.

2020, I ask you, would you object to never seeing each other again? "Cause I can't afford to/climb aboard you/no one's got that much ego to spend," Mann continues, adding a sense of hopelessness to that opening of vulnerable regret. Almost all of the vulnerabilities seizing us in 2020 come from misjudging our egos, either as too big, Mr. President, or not big enough, uh, Mr. President, that is you again.

"Deathly" ostensibly is about an unhealthy personal relationship, but the song, along with most of the other songs off of Bachelor No. 2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo, are also about Mann's unhealthy relationship with her record company, a situation so hopeless that she had to buy the rights to Bachelor No. 2 to sell it herself off of her website. Voices may carry but apparently artistry (you'll find very few people who don't acknowledge Mann as a brilliant songwriter) does not. But I digress again. Or do I not? Are we not discovering our own unhealthy relationships with our hair salons, health clubs, kids' schools, favorite restaurants? Each one stares at us with haunting "come hither" looks.

You see, everything right now is deathly. When Mann belts in the chorus: "So don't work your stuff/because I've got troubles enough/No, don't pick on me/when one act of kindness could be/deathly," she reminds us that in our vulnerable states, even that which appears to be good for us can kill us. We're all "just a problem" for someone "to solve and watch dissolve in the heat of your charm." Our weakness is more than just deathly by the second chorus, it becomes "definitely," as Mann finishes out the chorus' fourth measure, "deathly/deathly/deathly/definitely."

We all need to seek any lovely interludes we can find, such as the song's spectacular guitar solo, bridging us to our last, ultimate, concession of weakness:

"You're on your honor/

'Cause I'm a goner/

and you haven't even begun/

so do me a favor/

if I should waver/

get out the gun."

Emotions rise and then drop as Mann concedes again that "I've got troubles enough."

It's a sentiment I get. Everyday I wake up and I waver in the face of it all. Does it really matter if I wear the mask? Why bother planning for an uncertain Fall semester when it could change any second?  I try to stay strong but in the end, I feel like the long amazing fade out of guitar solo, hammered drumming, and synthesizer wave, like a sparkler burning down to extinction.

Tomorrow I will wake up and try to get through another day right now, taking comfort in the little things, a fantastic voice, a pithy snarled line -- "get out the gun" -- or a soaring guitar line, just to remind me that I can stare death in the face for another day.

"Deathly." Bachelor No.2 or The Remains of the Dodo. Aimee Mann. Superego. 2000. Link here.

Day 83: The Police "Message In A Bottle."

Day 85: Big Audio Dynamite II "Rush"

See complete list here.