I was one of those young teenagers that liked music, but wasn’t crazy about it. There were specific songs I loved, not bands. I didn’t buy albums. I bought singles, and taped things off of the radio. I watched MTV (when they still mostly showed music videos and not as much reality TV). As I’ve said, I loved certain songs–the flip side of that being I hated certain others.
For example, the song ‘Free Fallin’‘ by Tom Petty. It was over-played. Crazy over-played. And the video didn’t exactly make sense to me either. However, because I’d liked Tom Petty prior to this, I moved past it.
I never really listened to 10,000 Maniacs, save their cover of Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen’s (yes, he co-wrote it) ‘Because the Night’. That song and ‘These Are the Days’ were the only 10,000 Maniacs’ songs I knew. So, when Natalie Merchant went solo around 1993/94, I was only vaguely aware of it. And when her album, Tigerlily, came out, I was suddenly inundated with ‘Carnival’. Ok, the song ‘Jealousy’ was played a fair bit as well, but not NEARLY as much. With ‘Carnival’, I began my irrational hatred of Natalie Merchant.
Ok, so HATE is a very strong word. Dislike, extreme dislike, might be a better description. I would (and still, if I’m honest) inwardly groan at the sound of it.
To this day, I can’t properly explain why I dislike that song, and dislike it so strongly. If I must, then here is my list:
- It was played ALL THE TIME.
- My teenage self wanted nothing but raw angst, or rebellion, or unrequited love in my music. Nevermind her beautiful voice. Nevermind, the awesome lyrics. Nevermind, the interesting video. It was too mellow for my burgeoning, but hormonal musical taste. I also list Tracey Chapman and Counting Crows in that category, although, I’ve also recently come around to Counting Crows too.
- Not to cop out, but it just irked me. As a first impression.
Nowadays, I can appreciate the things I missed in her music when I was younger..but it still doesn’t stop my instinct to turn off that song whenever it comes on. It must have been imbedded , from my teenage years…UNTIL…
Cut to yesterday evening:
I was making dinner, and listening to the radio (BBC Radio 2). The programme was about the Cambridge Folk Festival, and someone was interviewing Natalie Merchant (although I didn’t know that yet). They talked about the lullaby/nursery rhyme/children’s poetry concept of her new album ‘Leave Your Sleep’. I was hooked. I LOVE all that stuff in literature and intangible heritage/oral history–a concept album inspired by it all sounded awesome.
Then–they cut to her on stage, singing ‘Adventures of Isabel‘.
And I knew. It was her. This woman I had avoided listening to for nearly 15 years.
That’s when all my ‘haterade’ came back, and bit me in the ass. I LIKED it. She sounded AWESOME–ethereal, but strong; countrified, but elegant; happy, but still a little bit dark. That’s when my Merchant-frown flipped upside down.
As LeVar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what someone else (Shelley Hanvey of ‘eFestivals: the definitive guide to festivaling’) had to say:
‘Her voice is full of soul and her performances captivate in a way I hadn’t quite yet seen at the festival; not to take anything away from previous artists of course, but Merchant was something else.’
I still can’t really listen to ‘Carnival’, but I think I can make up for it all by buying her new album…and maybe some old ones too. I now, willingly, dole out the appreciation and attention Ms Merchant never knew she was missing.
Leave Your Sleep– check it out on Natalie’s website.