Wednesday, March 28, 2007

“Stupid Thing” / Aimee Mann

Men, you should be afraid of Aimee Mann. Be very afraid -- she knows all your tricks.

So maybe you don’t dare listen to this track from her 1993 debut album Whatever –but ladies, I’ll recommend it as the perfect song to crank up when your significant other has been messing you around. It’s not a revenge song so much as a putting-things-in-perspective song.

What woman hasn’t watched a relationship fall apart like this? Patiently Aimee rehearses the situation as she recalls it: “Nothing was saving our day / There was nothing to say, / But you said something anyway” (unable to resist that little dig there, with a shrug and a roll of the eyes). “Claiming I stepped out of line,” she continues, “Which forced you to leave me, / As if that idea was mine.” Maybe this is a Mars/Venus situation, but I can’t help but side with Aimee – I’ve seen how men overreact to perceived slights, with an air of offended pride (wounded vanity is more like it), and the woman’s side of the story just doesn’t count. In verse two, Aimee’s even more suspicious of her ex’s motives: “I bet you knew it would come / That’s just like you to sit back / And just play it dumb / One word of warning would help / But that sacrifice was made / Trying to save yourself.” He’s put his own ego first, instead of playing things for the good of the relationship. Just waiting to blame things on somebody else . . . just waiting for an excuse to give up.

The verses are sung wearily, just acoustic guitar and drums with a fragile, lilting melody – but hey, she’s only getting started. The chorus gets more vigorous, with electric guitar and piano joining the mix, and Aimee’s singing sharpens with a skeptical edge. “Oh, you stupid thing / Speaking of course as your dear departed / Oh, you stupid thing / It wasn’t me that you outsmarted / Oh, you stupid thing / Stopping it all before it even started.” That wry description of herself as “your dear departed” clues me in that she’s not even grieving the end of this relationship anymore – how could she? It never even got out of the gate. That blunt term “stupid thing” is a pretty dry-eyed description of a guy who wasn’t worth hanging onto -- it’s his loss, not hers (“It wasn’t me that you outsmarted”). But the slightly draggy tempo, the melodic repetitions, suggests how bone-tired she is of doing all the work and not getting any generosity in return. There’s a pattern here. Familiar?

This is why we need female singer-songwriters. Probably this was an autobiographical song, but I doubt I’m the only woman who can relate. Some days I want to wear my heart on my sleeve, and then I’ll listen to Dusty Springfield and Patsy Cline. But other days, I want to stand up for myself – and for those days, it’s good to have Aimee Mann around.

Stupid Thing sample


Ton said...

For all who have never seen Aimee, live or otherwise, hop over to Apple's High Definition site for a high quality live performance. It takes some time to download but it's worth every second...

Aimee started with a band called 'Til Tuesday, with gitarist Jon Brion, who went on to produce another talented female singer-songwriter (Fiona Apple) after the third and final album. That album featured a song called The Other End (Of the Telescope) which Aimee co-wrote with Elvis Costello.

Anonymous said...

This is a great song. Terrific meoldy, lyrics and vocal performance. You can feel her a breath away from saying "Good Riddance" and going out with her friends.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with "anonymous" above!! I think this song so clearly describes what happens when there's a lack of trust (and perhaps a lack of self-confidence?) combined with an inability or unwillingness to communicate. He's seen something which makes him suspicious or angry. He doesn't talk to her about it to find out if his perception is correct. (Perhaps he wouldn't believe her even if she provided a perfectly innocent rational explanation.) No "word of warning." He waits. Somewhere inside, he's decided that if she acts a certain way or does something else, that will confirm the bad thing. It's a test.
She doesn't know she's taking a test. She thinks she's in a promising new relationship.
She does something which makes him decide she's failed the test.
He confronts her with his take on the situation and walks out. End of story.

Well now, that WAS a lot easier than deepening the relationship to include a heartfelt talk about his fears, suspicians and insecurities, wasn't it? Perhaps he could honestly tell that he would not be interested in continuing the relationship, because he can see that there is truly a lack of compatibility in an area critical to him. Well, what a cowardly way to deal with that angle, if that's really what was going on!!
Ah, who needs that kind of grief. As you point out, she's well rid of him, either way. And she knows it! Still, it smarts, enough to bring out a great song.
I'm sure glad he's nameless in the song. How ironic-- a great song about a jerk, or a type of jerk, who is not worthy of having a song written about him!

Thank you, Aimee, for writing the song (per Wikipedia, it was co-written with Jon Brion, mentioned above, her boyfriend at the time, who produced the "Whatever" album.)
And thank you, Holly, for introducing me to a song to which I can relate quite easily at the moment, and for yet another great blog entry.