BY ERICA GARZA
I was 15 when I first heard Fiona Apple’s Tidal and No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. Side by side, the albums have little correlation. No Doubt’s 14-track ska/punk masterpiece is full of mostly upbeat anthems like "Spiderwebs," "Excuse Me, Mister" and "Just a Girl." Not long after No Doubt’s videos made it to MTV’s lineup, avid grrl fans were buying Dickies and "wife beaters" and incorporating too many sit-ups into their afternoons as a result of Gwen’s tomboy-meets-sexpot look.
Tidal, on the other hand, has just 10 songs and most of them can be described by the title of track five, "Slow Like Honey." Fiona’s 19-year-old wisdom is accompanied by a more jazz sound with intense piano riffs and low alto vocals. As far as mood, I often felt that where Gwen was sarcastic, Fiona was sullen, if Gwen was aggressive, Fiona was angsty, where Gwen may have been battling jealousy, Fiona was battling post-traumatic stress.
I was hooked at 15 and still am. Even when Gwen detached from No Doubt and got obsessed with Harajuku girls and Fiona took a six-year break between When the Pawn… and Extraordinary Machine and then a seven-year break before her latest, The Idler Wheel…
I analyzed the lyrics for all the albums like I was some fanatical detective on the hunt for some truth. After all, that was always the most compelling thing about these women--their honesty, not the media hoopla: Gwen’s heart was broken by her bandmate Tony! Fiona was raped! Gwen’s marrying Gavin! Fiona rages in her MTV acceptance speech! Gwen’s pregnant! Fiona’s anorexic! While it’s easy to become mesmerized by the circus show of the media and what the magazines deem to be "truth," I always knew better--look to the art.
Serendipitously, I often felt Gwen and Fiona knew what was going on in my life at any given point. I always had company. I suppose that’s why we choose the songs and albums we like. Because they resonate. There’s nothing spectacular or especially unusual about that, but I’ve been committed to these women for almost two whole decades, never skipping a beat, because they always seemed to be singing about things that mattered to me, things I was too embarrassed or careful to admit.
When I found myself in a long distance relationship, I, too, didn’t want to hear my boyfriend talk about his ex-girlfriends as Gwen admits in "In My Head." I ached to feel like the only one. Many times I, too, chose to play it safe, considering the cost of love too high should I lose it, as Fiona confesses in "Paper Bag." When Gwen was scared of solitude and success in "What You Waiting For?" I nodded my head. When Fiona was trying to make peace with her lover’s past in "Jonathan," I was treading the same rocky, uncomfortable waters.
As a young growing girl and still growing woman, the insecure, angry, jealous, and vulnerable lyrics of these two women taught me that there was an appropriate outlet for all these heavy feelings. And the answer wasn’t pumping euphoria into my veins or swallowing numbness down in hasty gulps or treading violence across my wrists. The answer was pen to paper and words to throat. It was reveal, expose, express no matter how crazy I looked, how broken, how scared. Artists, but especially these two, disguised in pop music and MTV ratings and overboard media coverage, taught me to cry, to get angry, to think things unfair and tragic…then to remember the truth: there are songs to be sung, paragraphs to be formed and a story to be woven out of this.
Erica Garza has been published in Alternet, BUST, Refinery29, Bustle, Vivala, Mamamia, Role Reboot, HelloGiggles and The Los Angeles Review. She has contributed food reviews for the publications Maui Now and Brooklyn Exposed and worked as a copywriter for a digital marketing agency in Manhattan. In 2010, she earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Columbia University and is now at work on her first book. Born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents, Erica has spent most of her adult life traveling and living abroad in such places as Florence, London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Bogota, Bali, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chennai, Melbourne and the island of Maui.
She is currently based in Los Angeles, California.