Fiona and the hard-luck Rock Kids.
By Bill Frost
July 14, 1997: You know who Fiona Apple is. If you're reading an allegedly music-based column such as this, you can't possibly not know who the wonder waif is. She's all over alternative and adult contemporary (and maybe even country) radio, MTV, VH1, magazines, the Internet and, July 10, Kingsbury Hall.
After all this exposure, you may think you know Fiona Apple. You've listened to her debut album Tidal at least 100 times through, whilst snuffing out cigarette butts on that picture of your recently ex-boy/girlfriend and draining another box of wine because Fiona speaks to you, damn it!
What you may not have noticed is that Apple isn't much of a happy camper, herself. No, really, it's true. Scoring a record deal with one of the biggest labels on the planet at 18 must take it out of you having your first album go on to become a critical and commercial hit has to be a living hell.
An informal poll I've taken about the reason for Apple's perma-pout turned up such responses as, "Maybe she's an old soul," "She's obviously a tortured artist," "Her parents screwed her up," "It's just marketing: They couldn't sell some happy little Debbie Gibson-ite" and "Everybody had a rotten childhood, girlie get over it, count the money and eat something already!"
That last one did not come from Dr. Laura, by the way I tried, but the lines were always busy.
To be fair, Apple has had some rough times. She grew up in Manhattan with unmarried, Central Park West liberal parents; she began psychotherapy at 11 because her teachers believed she displayed anti-social behavior. At age 12, she was raped by a stranger in her own apartment building. The pain that bleeds through on Tidal is no pose.
The album itself is simply amazing, full of low-end piano rumbling, silky melodies and starkly confessional lyrics given life by that rich, knowing voice that can't possibly be hers. The new single, "Criminal," is the stone-sexiest groove to come down the pike in years Apple's got more than enough talent and soul to justify a little quirkiness.
But to quote Emilio Estevez that was then, this is now. While other stringy-haired angry rock females have disappeared from the radar, Apple's a certified Big Thing. Anyone heard from Patti Rothberg? Tracy Bonham? Leah Andreone? Our girl Fiona even has new best buds, like Howard Stern (not him again) and Marilyn Manson. She's got every reason in the world to lighten up these days, but nooo. I searched her press archive of about 100 photos to find anything with her even remotely coming close to smiling. I found exactly one.
Apple's MTV image is even more depressing. The videos for "Sleep To Dream" and "Criminal" present the unkempt artiste as Miss Teen Junkie USA, lounging around in seedy studio apartments with greasy extras, who were apparently too wasted to make it to that Calvin Klein photo shoot. This either is pure marketing, or Apple is in dire need of a reality check: To be this young, talented, beautiful and assured of an actual future in the music biz is a rarity.
Tonight, while she's performing to a sold-out crowd in the plush surroundings of Kingsbury Hall, there will be at least one band across town playing in some dingy club to about 10 people including the bartender and the opening act. The drummer of that band is killing time reading this right now and thinking, "Right on stick it to her!" Or, "What the fuck is this guy talking about?" it could go either way.
Another teen prodigy, 15-year-old Jonny Lang, also has a hit major label debut and he's singin' the blues, too. But in this case, that's his job: He's a hot-shot blues singer/guitarist with an album called Lie To Me, which is just as real and impressive as Apple's. After a recent fiery performance on "Letterman," Dave deadpanned, "It's just a shame, a kid that young havin' the blues that bad." Maybe Lang and Apple could get together and record a duet for the soundtrack of Leaving Las Vegas 2.
Or maybe they both need to tour strip-malls with those happy-go-lucky kids in Hanson. Since 1992, Hanson have recorded two self-distributed CDs, written more than 100 original songs and performed in public hundreds of times before releasing the insanely huge "MMMBop" and their Mercury debut, Middle Of Nowhere Isaac is 16, Taylor is 13 and Zac is 11: If anyone's got a complaint about lost childhood, it would be these guys. That, and being abandoned for a solo career by older brother Beck (I can't prove that one yet, but I'm working on it).
Please note that 14-year-old country welp LeAnn Rimes has not been mentioned once young 'uns in C&W aren't really that unusual and Rimes seems just a little too well-adjusted. I suspect that she'll retire in shame after whacking Shania Twain in the kneecaps with a lead pipe at the next CMA awards.
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