On June 16, 2006, cheekypinky and the 24 year old version of myself met up outside the back lot of the Jimmy Kimmel show to watch Fiona Apple tape the music portion of that night’s show. Several warm hours and one $40 parking ticket later I wrote down an un-edited version of the following first-response thoughts on her performance.
Which I then lost for five years and five days.
I do do things, you see, it just takes me a while to finish them sometimes.
Fiona Apple wasn’t the only one getting kind of freaked out during her show that night.
There was also, well– everybody else.
Packed into a heavily accessorized crowd of sweating 20-somethings — inhaling, exhaling, pontificating — we waited for the giggling brunette from the projection screen to come outside to tape the music portion of that evening’s episode of the Jimmy Kimmel Show. In the meantime there was talk of Rob Zombie, the heat, and the location of the uvula, interrupted only by a stocky white boy in thick glasses and an emo beard shrugging his shoulders at his own guesses of what song titles he thought he might’ve glimpsed on the set list.
For the record: None of his guesses were correct.
About a minute and a half before the crowd got uglier, Magic Johnson appeared off stage right, waved, and seated himself on a couch on stage. Cue: A collective intake of breath from the crowd, at which point this tiny woman tip-toed out to receive a tide of love and laughter that threatened to drown her in the spit of two hundred smiles.
We were here together, all of us, and we knew the music– the music we’d braved the parking, the crowd, and the heat to hear– was on its way. Cue: A collective exhale.
And perhaps I was alone in this, but I didn’t know what to expect of the receptacle for that music, only that each isolated spark of it shook me like the tears you don’t let yourself cry because it doesn’t fit to break down weeping in the ordering line at Panda Express.
Before her fear and music, there was her dress: floor length, sky blue gauze, straps like suggestions, and a sash on loan from the Anti-Sex League. There was the way she clutched at it while rocking, creating wrinkles in its fine flies and shimmers. There was the way she pulled it up past her knee before flinging it back into place. There was the swaying as she hit herself in the chest like a child reluctantly killing a bird, before holding her breastbone in place so it would not slide out between ribs installed akimbo.
Between verses she turned her face from the mic, with an expression fit for cursing out demons; yelling, pounding, creating poetry in some dark language of self flagellation, until the next verse demanded her attention. She vexed her soul at the top of her lungs. And were it not for the music- who knows? Perhaps we would have heard her cursing us, too.
And every time she’d jump up and down, or beat her fists against herself, or scream or grunt or cry, the crowd would cheer like she had swallowed swords of fire. We were applauding a gladiator unaware the lion wasn’t dead after all.
She covered her mouth as she sang, covered her face, let her hair fall across it. And the way she’d huddle around her mug on the piano, you hoped there was alcohol in it so maybe her nerves would relax. After one song she ducked behind the piano to drink from the mug. Squatting low she looked out from behind the bars of the foot peddles at the crowd now at eye level. I silently prayed no one had caught her eye and spooked her. I silently prayed she would not decide to stay there.
The next song began. She approached the mic like an aging dog fearing physical reproach after years of perfect behavior followed by a sudden, unexpected swat. And then, every now and again, she’d laugh and shout and raise her arms high in the air like a toddler begging to be picked up.
She said during the interview inside the studio that she has amazingly strong hands, and that she worries tremendously about everything, that she’s starting a tour soon, and that the only thing she knows about it is that the first stop is in Vegas. She said she has to pretend she’s not performing or she can’t go through with it. Seeing her on stage then– with the wilting heat and the waving crowd– my heart sank for her, sure her words were no exaggeration.
And my fear? My fear was that she would be amazing. That she would outshine old greats, current greats, greats to come. That the dress would be every dress, that the nerves would be her soul, that the woman would be a phenom. And when she dropped to her first growl I knew my fear was well founded. And when that growl soared higher than the whirling pink lights overhead could ever reach, well– what is life without a little fear, right?
Fiona Apple is this real… thing, you know? She’s got the magic that’s in paint that makes canvas stretch its fibers to make room for more picture. She’s the wink in the angel tarnished by circumstance. And she abandons her hands to the sky because it’s the only way she knows how to beg to be picked up.