Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fiona Apple in New York City: Why I'm Sort of Dying to Be Back Home Again

My good friends and my Union Square apartment aside, I can't say there's much that I miss about living in New York City, particularly in the post-9/11 years. Occasionally, usually while I'm watching a rerun of Sex and the City on TV, I get a little nostalgic for the good old days, circa 1994-95 -- Monday nights at Sugar Babies, Tuesdays at Jackie 60, Wednesdays at Flamingo East, Thursdays at Bowery Bar, Fridays at Sound Factory Bar, Saturdays at the Roxy and Twilo, Sundays hungover in bed with a cheese omelet and fries. But I dry my misty eyes and move on.

Now I'm once again in a New York state of mind. In fact, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be on Monday, March 26. What will make this manic Monday in Manhattan more special than any other one? Fiona Apple. Her The Idler Wheel mini-tour (in support of her June album The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do) will bring her to New York City's Bowery Ballroom, a venue that was always one of my Manhattan favorites -- and not just because People magazine had its 1998 Christmas party there.

The last time I stepped foot in Bowery Ballroom, in 2006, my friend Deirdre and I were there to see Keane, who had just released its second album, Under the Iron Sea, an obsession that kept me occupied for most of my final summer in New York. I was also with Deirdre the last time I saw Fiona Apple in concert, sometime in the late '90s, when Apple was the opening act for Chris Isaak at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side.

I've always felt that Apple's wild-eyed slightly crazed and confused persona (not to mention wordy, pretentious album titles like the one above) overshadowed her music. When I interviewed Apple, now 34, for People, she was only 19 years old and nothing like the mad genius I'd subsequently see onstage or the sullen girl (to use one of her song titles) grudgingly giving acceptance speeches at award shows, turning people off before they'd even gotten to her music. Though I was impressed by her maturity and eloquence, I never dreamt that she'd evolve into possibly the most gifted singer-songwriter in her age group. Too bad she makes us wait so long between albums.

Of course, good things do come to those who wait. When the Pawn..., her 1999 second album, whose official title is a 90 (or so)-word poem, was released in November of 1999, three years after Tidal and just in time for it to be one of my favorite albums of the last century. I was hooked on it from the minute I put my advance copy into the CD player in my bathroom at the Delano Hotel, where I was staying while I was in Miami for a Teen People photo shoot with Enrique Iglesias.

For the next year or so, it managed to creep into pretty much every conversation I had, including one I had one drunken Sunday night (pre-President's Day) with Adam Cohen, the singer-songwriter son of Leonard, at a Chelsea restaurant where my friend Elvis (yes, Elvis) was a waiter. If my memory serves me correctly, he loved it as much as I did.

Despite the relatively short waiting period after Tidal, Pawn was right up there with Radiohead's The Bends and R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People among '90s musical highlights. As don't-fall-for-me declarations go, "Fast As You Can," an inventive blend of rock and jazz featuring one of the best vocals I've ever heard, is even better than Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," which is saying a lot.


It would be six years before Apple's label, Epic Records, would finally release Extraordinary Machine, her third album. I have always been firmly in the camp that prefers the original Jon Brion-produced bootleg version that Epic rejected in favor of the slicker Mike Elizondo/Brian Kehew production. But I could spend all day listening to either version of "Better Version of Me," "Used to Love Him" and "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)," which is "Used to Love Him" with a new title and a gentler beat that sounds like its creeping up on you.

Apple recently previewed some of her new songs at SXSW, and judging from what I've seen and heard on YouTube, my hopes are high. May she once again enjoy commercial success commensurate with her talent. If any female deserves to be the Adele of the second half of 2012 and beyond, it's Fiona Apple.

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