BY LYDIA A. CYRUS
The first time I heard the sound of Aimee Mann’s voice was on the television. It was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The episode titled "Sleeper" featured Aimee as a guest musician at the famed, fictional hangout The Bronze. Buffy was famous for bringing in real, sometimes established musicians to play on the show. Aimee, however, had a speaking role too. She played the songs "This is How it Goes" and "Pavlov’s Bell" from her 2002 album Lost In Space. Her line? "Man, I hate playing vampire towns."
Recently I’ve been compiling information on the 1969 Bob Dylan album Nashville Skyline for a class project. I had to "create" liner notes for each track on the album and talk about the significance each song had as a song and as a part of the album itself. It got me thinking critically of the music I had been listening to, something I admit I already do most of the time. However, it made think about how there is significance in songs outside of their format and their place on the album they come from. There is significance in the way those songs make you feel, the time period in your life in which they appeared for the first time, and sometimes the lines and messages within the songs that weave into your existence and stay there.
I decided to compile a series of liner notes on Aimee because she’s the outlier musician in my personal library: her music has had a steady place at my table for years and it never changes for me. I often joke that my relationship with her music is the longest, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. I come back to certain albums or certain artists when I feel like it, but I listen to Aimee almost daily. It’s like in the Brittany Murphy movie Little Black Book: Aimee is my Carly Simon. I turn to her for every possible human emotion and sometimes just to have a familiar voice in the background while I write or walk. I decided to not go with any set structure; instead I’m just going to write about the songs that mean the most for me. Though I would encourage listeners to get their hands on as much of Aimee’s work as possible.
"Red Vines" from the 2000 album Bachelor No. 2 or, The Last Remains of the Dodo
The third track from Aimee’s 2000 album changes every time I listen to it. Not literally, but the meaning changes depending on my mood. I often think of the song as a tribute to Hollywood and the idea of being an actor. The, "just read the dialogue balloon," makes me think of scripts and the repeated imagery of red vines and cigarettes seemed like movie theater fair for me. The line that always gets to me is, "everyone loves you, why should they not," as I often think about people in general. In my life, I’ve made friends with folks that others didn’t like well and I often wondered why it was that my friends weren’t liked. On the flip side, I have witnessed people who have incredible "fame" but behind closed doors are wicked, cruel people. I guess that line always makes me wonder about the people I love, why do I love them? The best section of the song, for me, is the last verse where Aimee says, "And tell me, would it kill you? Would it really spoil everything, if you didn’t blame yourself? Do you know what I mean?" As someone who suffers through horrible anxiety, I blame myself for many things. Most of which I have no business feeling guilty over. Here, it would seem Aimee is saying hey maybe let that shit slide.
Also listen to: "It Takes All Kinds"
"Deathly" from the 1999 Magnolia Soundtrack
The 1999 film Magnolia has been said to be inspired largely by Aimee’s music. The film is beautifully done and one of my many favorites. This song reminds me of a particular character from the film, Claudia, who suffers from a cocaine addiction and a bitter relationship with her estranged father. The song reads, "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." To me, this speaks to the fragile state I think many people have about falling in love: the knowledge that you are a mess in your own mind and can’t offer (or fear that you can’t offer) someone else the love they want. I’ve always been one of the goofy, tender hearted people who cry when people are nice to me. Though I don’t feel those acts of kindness to be "deathly" I certainly know how it feels to think that you’re too broken to love others or be loved in return.
Also listen to: "Save Me."
"Goose Snow Cone" from the 2017 album Mental Health
This is Aimee’s most recent single and I have to admit I didn’t know it was forthcoming until I stumbled upon this on accident. Aimee writes, "gotta keep it together when your friends come by. Always checking the weather but they wanna know why. Even birds of a feather find it hard to fly." The first few times I listened it I was so fascinated by the guitar and bell sounds (I’m not a musician so I assume that’s bells I’m hearing) and how beautiful the song was on that level. On a lyrical level, I always come back to this idea that song is about loneliness that you experience in a crowd of people. The idea that you can be surrounded by others, friends, and still feel like something is missing. That’s an okay feeling to have and not uncommon, though most of us don’t admit to it. I often reflect sometimes on the pain of losing friendships and finding new ones and how, at this current moment, I think I’ve found my people. The line, "I just wanted a place but I ended up gone," especially sticks out for me when I think of the unhealthy friendships that ended and the pain they brought. Sometimes you feel lost in that and even though it’s for the best for those things to come to pass, it still hurts.
Also listen to: "Good For Me."
"Freeway" from the 2008 album @#%&*! Smilers (pronounced Fucking Smilers)
Perhaps my favorite Aimee Mann song, this one is about someone having lots of money but not being wealthy. It’s about how the richest aspects of life have nothing to do with physical money. "You got a lot of money, but you can’t afford the freeway," is a play on words: free way and freeway. How many movies depict that wealthy businessman stuck in traffic yelling into his Bluetooth headset? There ya go. It’s an upbeat tune that serves to remind listeners that being bouge ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s also worth mention that Aimee’s voice is easy for me to "match up" with and sing along to. I trained for eight years in public school to sing first soprano and feel literal pain when I try to scrap low notes so musicians that have light voices get more play on my end because I can sing their songs in the car without feeling like I’m swallowing hot gravel. I’m only a little ashamed to admit that my car playlist is sometimes based on whether or not I can perfectly cover those songs, only a little bit.
Also listen to: "Borrowing Time."
"Labrador" from the 2012 album Charmer
I lied; this song is my favorite Aimee Mann song and literally brings tears to my eyes because of its beauty. It’s a song, seemingly, about a dog. Aimee compares herself to a family dog she used to have named Maisie. The chorus reads, "but I came back for more and you laughed in my face and you rubbed it in. Cause I’m a Labrador and I run when the gun drops the dove again." For me, it speaks to a quality I see in myself that I hate. It’s this bad habit of mine where I always end up going above and beyond for people who do very little for me. The image of the dog running again and again to fetch the dead dove reminds me of all the times I held out chairs for classmates or dropped everything for a friend when maybe that person didn’t exactly deserve it. It stems from the need to please and be well liked, the need to be a Labrador. It’s also my favorite song of Aimee’s to sing.
Also listen to: "Red Flag Diver."
"This is How it Goes" from the 2002 album Lost in Space
Probably the most important, personal song from Aimee for me. The chorus of the song is about drugs, "Cause it’s all about drugs, it’s all about shame. And whatever they want, don’t ‘em your name." I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia, and still live there. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen one of the news stories or documentaries about the opioid epidemic there. Huntington has a very serious, very large-scale problem with heroin overdoses. In my own life, I’ve lost an uncle and a friend to that addiction. This song reminds me of the pain that those deaths have left behind for myself and others. Though I can’t imagine Aimee could have predicted the future or had me in mind, I always feel personally touched by this song and the way it’s crafted. The lyrics hit home in a way that brings comfort in the mist of something hard to deal with.
Also listen to: "Guys Like Me."
"Can’t You Tell?" from the 2016 30 Days, 30 Songs Project
The 30 Days project was released on Spotify as a response to the 2016 election and Donald Trump in particular. Each song is a resistance against Donald. Aimee’s song starts with an allusion to the white house correspondence dinner where jokes were made about Donald, the same night Donald alleges he decided to "really" run for president. The chorus reads, "Isn’t anybody going to stop me? I don’t want this job, I don’t want this hob, my god, can’t you tell? I’m unwell." As we’ve all seen, Donald is unwell and little has changed that perspective for me and many others since this song was released in 2016.
"Great Beyond" from the 2008 album @#%&*! Smilers (Pronounced Fucking Smilers)
Another huge staple in my love for Aimee Mann: this song always hits home for me in a way few other songs do. The line, "If I were you, I would leave this neighborhood away from people who never treat you like they should," often feels like a bittersweet piece of advice given to me from Aimee. As someone who never "fit" in with my family and ended up suffering through abuse at their hands I never felt like home was home. The street I grew up on is inhabited by most of my family, making them my neighbors. This song reminds me of my own desire to skip town and gives me justification for doing so.
Lydia A. Cyrus (STAFF WRITER) is a creative nonfiction writer and poet from Huntington, West Virginia. Her work as been featured in Thoreau's Rooster, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Albion Review, and Luna Luna. Her essay "We Love You Anyway," was featured in the 2017 anthology Family Don't End with Blood which chronicles the lives of fans and actors from the television show Supernatural.
She lives and works in Huntington where she spends her time being politically active and volunteering. She is a proud Mountain Woman who strives to make positive change in Southern Appalachia. She enjoys the color red and all things Wonder Woman related! You can usually find her walking around the woods and surrounding areas as she strives to find solitude in the natural world. Twitter: @lydiaacyrus