Saturday, August 01, 2009

"O'Hare" / Amy Rigby

Inexplicable. All these years, how did I never hear about Amy Rigby before now? She moved to New York City about the same time I did -- 1979 -- and was around all those same years, playing in bands like The Shams and the Last Roundup before going solo in 1996 (after divorcing her drummer husband) with the exquisitely titled album Diary of a Mod Housewife, an album that sounds scarily like my life. Of course, all those years she was hanging downtown with the cool punk music people while I was in Midtown with the not-so-cool publishing people -- and by 1996 I didn't even go south of 86th Street if I didn't have to. So it's safe to say that my paths and Amy Rigby's would very rarely have crossed in this great teeming metropolis. And as all the reviewers seem compelled to point out, she never got the exposure she deserved -- maybe because her ironic lyrics and country-tinged sound were too subtle for the punk world, and too punky for the Lilith Fair singer-songwriter girls. That Diary of a Mod Housewife is out-of-print by now; even the iTunes pickings are slim.

So how does she finally enter my consciousness? I start listening to Nick Lowe's old Stiff labelmate Wreckless Eric, am gobsmacked by how good he was, then discover that he's still performing and recording -- and has just released a new album with his new wife . . . Amy Rigby. The reviewers mention her like a name I should know, and I get to researching, and --

Eric and Amy's new album is intriguing, but it does sound more like Eric -- who's spent many years in the musical wilderness -- than like Amy's best work. Maybe it'll just take a few more listens for me to get into it. But I can safely say that Amy's earlier solo stuff has jumped straight to the head of my queue. It's like when I first discovered Jill Sobule or Kirsty MacColl -- like some sister had been reading my diary and writing it up in these great funny and absolutely true songs.

Surfing around, I've picked this one practically at random, from her 2003 album, Till the Wheels Fall Off. Strumming an acoustic guitar, she hits us right off with a real grabber of an image: "We've been circling each other like a couple planes at O'Hare / With nowhere to land." I love the wry curl of her voice, half talking, with just a little plangent country twang. You can almost hear her sigh as she notes, "And if we did, no place to go from there." That well-worn note of despair, that's no 17-year-old talking.

Next killer image, same verse: "And you're talking to me like you're handling the Dead Sea Scrolls" -- well, if you haven't faced that kind of clumsy male diffidence, more power to you, sister. She can barely restrain the eye-roll as she asks, "Do you think we're gonna figure this out before we both get old?" I mean, c'mon already!

In a master stroke of concise scene-setting, she slides into the bridge, "Tick tock they're closing for the night," and I can just see her, at that back table in the bar, sagging in weary frustration -- "I'm shell-shocked, giving up the fight." How many times has she gone through this rigamarole?

Rigby knows female desire, and she's not about to apologize for it, strutting into her twangy chorus. By now, she's lost the ladlylike acoustic and she's swinging into full roadhouse jangly electric guitar, with punchy loping drums, like the impatient tapping of her boot. "Come on, I need you to hold me," she urges him, drawing out the long o of "hold" with a little yelp. "What are you waiting for?" She has no time to waste or play fragile, you can tell, and she ruefully adds, "You can't break a heart that doesn't work no more / And I'm tired of trying like I did before." This is a woman with history -- what a novel concept! Frustrated, she moans, "I wanna lay down" -- another deft stroke, for laying down could be giving up, or it could be getting (at last!) into bed. Now there's songwriting for you.

"You can take off the kid gloves now, lose the finesse," she counsels him, knowingly, in the second verse. She's no ballbuster, but if he needs her to take control (and he clearly does), she will. "Yes, there's no secret technique in separating me from this dress." (Did I say she was funny or what?) Closing in on her evening's deal, she remarks, numbly surprised, "Something's moving in my chest" -- but no, "It's nothing, I just need some rest." She not about to get fooled into thinking that this bar hook-up is true love. Although it might turn out to be . . . well, you never know . . .

O'Hare sample





9 comments:

J-Money said...

Just to add another power pop twist to the story, Amy's former husband--the one who gave her the last name she still wears--was Will Rigby from The dB's.

She's a gem.

Holly A Hughes said...

You gotta wonder why her career didn't really take off until they divorced. It sounds like he gave her plenty of material to write about -- and not in a good way.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i'm from south africa and i'm a big fan of female songers, but... it's so hard to find Amy Rigby's diary of a mod housewive to download, if i could buy i would, but unfoturnate itunes is not avaliable in my country. i would love if some fan could upload that album for me, it is such a rarity, people on e-bay are selling for 100 bucks and they are not trustable!

Holly A Hughes said...

Wish I could help you there. It's not on iTunes, and I couldn't find a copy for myself yet. Still searching!

Anonymous said...

It's okay! Thank you very much for reply it! You now, one day i'll go to America and buy this record. I'm going to search everywhere until i find a copy. It is so rare. I'm going to search inside every record store, and maybe i may go to one of her concerts and ask for a copy! Who knows? i can find one for you too, but only if you do the same for me! =)

Miles Dervish said...

Hi! I'm a big Amy Rigby fan myself, and I wanted to tell you that I just loved your blog entry on "O'Hare." (I've only just stumbled onto your blog for the first time and read just three or four entries so far, but I'll definitely be coming back for more -- your writing on music is terrific!)

I also wanted to point out that used copies of "Diary of a Mod Housewife" are available very cheaply through Amazon zSellers. Depending on where you live, this may not be an option, but there are copies on the U.S. Amazon site for as low as $2.22 as I write this.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for the tip -- got mine ordered! Several of those sellers say they'll ship internationally as well, so our friend in South Africa should check it out. I got a new copy for $28. I'm sure it will be worth it!

Anonymous said...

I just checked out amazon and i finally bought my copie! By the way it's me from south africa! I have a aunt that lives in france, my copie will be sent to her, then she'll send it to me. They couldn't deliver here, but in European countries like England and france they can, so maybe at the end of the month (yeah it will take a while) i might be listening to this rarity! I only spent 75.00 (I thought it would be at least 100 bucks. you know it's expensive to send a cd to france and then to south africa, so...). Thanks Holly for everything and i'm going to keep reading your blog!

Holly A Hughes said...

Sweet! I just got mine and I played it over and over on a recent car trip -- it's an absolutely fantastic record. My current favorite track is one of the bonus cuts, "Housecleaning." I'm so glad you were able to pick up a copy (and I'm impressed at the complicated sheme you've got for getting it!) I just know you're gonna love it! Be sure to come back and let us know your impressions of it.