MVP features artists and their favorite albums.
When I was sixteen, movie soundtracks were my gateway drug into the realm of “indie” and non-mainstream, alternative music. Magnolia and Good Will Hunting introduced me to two of my favorite singer-songwriters at that time—Aimee Mann and Elliott Smith—who most certainly planted some musical seeds in me that persist to this day.
Moreover, these musicians and their varyingly sardonic, dark, sensitive, and self-contained observations of the world and their experiences in it were so unlike much of the pulpy and emotionally disconnected music I was hearing on the radio. I was a sensitive teenager and also felt distanced from my happy-go-lucky, suburban, girly girl peers. An artist, writer, and generally deep feeler from an early age, I knew the world wasn’t all that rosy and bubblegum pink. But I knew it was beautiful.
I had been fortunate to already experience complex, emotional textures in art and literature, and at sixteen discovered music I related to that was equally as complex, authentic, and meaningful as these other forms of art I enjoyed. These soundtracks resonated with my young, independent identity, and a growing sense of what was real and not real, suspect and not suspect in this adult world I was entering into.
I’ve somewhat outgrown listening to the late and deservedly-lauded Elliott Smith, whose music spoke to me so deeply in my youth and yet troubled me later, as did the ending of his life. For this, I feel Elliott is a quiet and profound phase I’ve almost had to put away. I’m not as sad as I once was. And I’m not as troubled. Still, I’ve got my own sensitive slant on the world.
Aimee Mann’s work, on the other hand, in Magnolia and beyond, is something that I’ve been able to grow with throughout my youth and into my adulthood. As a female musician, I look up to Aimee—a successful singer-songwriter, a woman of integrity and humor, battler of depression, and the owner of her own record label, SuperEgo. She’s someone to admire both in business and art. I don’t feel silly saying it: her hit single off the Magnolia soundtrack, “Save Me,” definitely saved me. I had finally discovered a cool lady artist I could identify with.
Those who felt the same about the song were lucky. With its attachment to an acclaimed, Hollywood A-list ensemble cast of Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, among others, “Save Me” made heavy rounds on adult alternative radio in late 1999-2000 and was heard by millions. Further broadening her reach, Aimee’s song and the soundtrack to which she contributed both went on to be nominated for Academy Awards.
Like so many, I was hooked by “Save Me” and Aimee’s particularly wry and charming songwriting. I remember hearing her voice come on the radio above the methodically thumping acoustic guitar melody. Besides loving her beautiful, reedy vocal tone, I remember thinking she was the very type of woman I could relate to, and probably wanted to be. The lyrics weren’t like anything I had heard on the radio, either—edgy, feminine, serious, and seriously deadpan:
You look like a perfect fit,
For a girl in need of a tourniquet.
But can you save me?
Come on and save me
If you could save me,
From the ranks of the freaks,
Who suspect they could never love anyone.
Before I knew about Pitchfork, before I even knew about Magnet Magazine, I would use AllMusic Guide online to investigate artists I came across; or I’d delve into different genre guides to read more about other musicians, past and present, I might like. It was there I learned more about Aimee Mann and made the connection with her ‘Til Tuesday past, her evolution into an alternative singer-songwriter, and her then current work for Magnolia. Next, I probably went down to Tower Records or maybe the local Streetlight where I picked up both Aimee’s 1995 album I’m With Stupid and the Magnolia soundtrack.
The songs on Magnolia were the ones that stuck with me throughout the years, especially those that were not long after released on Aimee’s 2000 album Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo. After my love for “Save Me,” “Driving Sideways” held a close second. The song starts with a compelling, opening sentiment—“At least you know / You were taken by a pro / I know just how you feel”—and then goes on to describe someone getting hooked in by a passenger/lover and taken for a ride, though you’re the one doing the sideways driving. It’s another wonderful example of Aimee’s unique, and sharply-written perspective in her craft. Meanwhile, the bouncing, sing-along chorus provided a wonderful bridge for me as a listener from the radio pop I had been hearing all my life to this in-between world I was discovering of clever singer-songwriters with intriguing stories to tell.
Another track, “You Do,” is a dreamy, sun-drenched lullaby in which Mann plays the role of a wise advice giver telling of a lover’s vulnerability when the dangers ahead are “all too clear.” It was in songs like this that I discovered as a music fan and, later as a songwriter, that anyone can write about love, but few can really make you feel a certain sentiment about it—and that the right delivery and earnestness in songwriting counts as much as any other compositional element.
The last song I’ll detail here from Magnolia is “Deathly”—certainly not the final of Mann’s contributions to the soundtrack (and there are other excellent songs on the album penne by others as well). “Deathly” kills it once more with a great opening line: “Now that I’ve met you, / would you object to / never seeing each other again?” Her cool, colloquial delivery in the chorus calmly warns the object of her displeasure, “don’t work your stuff, ‘cause I’ve got troubles enough.” A poetry fan, I remember loving this sly little rhyme, as well as Aimee’s drawn-out repetition later in the chorus of “deathly / deathly / definitely.” It’s odd, but it works—and like all good pop music, it sticks with you, as Aimee’s music has with me.
I feel fortunate, at a young age, to have discovered Aimee Mann and her work for the Magnolia soundtrack, a deft and subtle song-writing style to be admired, and a kick-ass role model behind the music.