Monday, July 26, 2010

"20 Questions" / Amy Rigby

In my free time lately, I've been messing around making new iTunes playlists (must be the frustrated DJ in me). I did one last night that really came out well, titled By The Numbers. Each track has a different number in the title, all the way up to twenty -- and this wicked song by Amy Rigby is the finale to the whole thing.

I don't know about you, but my family was big on parlor games when I was growing up -- Charades, Categories, Botticelli, and of course the classic Twenty Questions. The object is to guess the person, place, or thing that the game-setter is thinking of, in twenty strategic questions or less. That's of course assuming that the game-setter is honest about what he is thinking of, which in my family was no sure thing.

Amy Rigby's not playing that same game -- she's just grilling her no-account husband as he staggers home drunk, late one night. But she plays by the rules, and if you're counting while she's singing -- and c'mon, you gotta count, that title just begs you to -- she does indeed ask exactly twenty questions of this no-good lout. She even helps you keep track, with phrases like "I've got seventeen more questions" and "I've got fourteen more questions...."

The thing is, she's pretty busy haranguing him for the first couple minutes -- I start to get anxious that she won't get through the entire twenty by the end of the song. But never fear: along about 2:00 she launches into a blizzard of angry questions, backing him up against the wall, each question like an accusing finger stabbing into his chest. The last seven are the true quicksand questions -- he'd better have good answers to things like "do you love me?" and "do you still love me?" and "did you ever love me?" Oh, he's in the deep shit now. Question #19 seems to switch mood, as she coyly asks, "What time do you have to get up in the morning?" But she follows that up with the ultimate zinger for #20 -- well, you'll have to listen for yourself.

Sure, this has a twangy country guitar, and Amy's singing with her best spitfire yodel. Her errant lover's wearing cowboy boots -- check! -- and then there's the theme of the cheating drunk husband, one of the classic country music story lines. But Amy Rigby's always put a punk spin on country music; you won't find sentimental pieties here, only snarky feminist attitude and trip-wire lyrics. The conversation is "dangling like a lightbulb swinging in some cheap motel"; her husband smells like "a perfume insert from a women's magazine." Talk about loaded images!

The album this comes from, Diary of a Mod Housewife, is absolutely jam-packed with waspish wit like this. I totally get how Amy Rigby should now be married to Wreckless Eric -- that's even more perfect than my girl crush Zooey Deschanel marrying Death Cab For Cutie's It Boy Ben Gibbard. (Though that one's kaput already...)

Unlike my Sirius-XM DJ hero Megless Griffin, I don't get off on the female singer-songwriters in general, the Lilith Fair girls with their guitars and their yearning emotions -- the Gillian Welches and Beth Ortons of this world. (DO NOT EVEN MENTION KATE BUSH TO ME.) I can see that they're talented and lovely; they just don't speak to me. But Amy Rigby? Oh, yes, this girl speaks to me.


Alex said...

This is sooooo great.

I've heard some of her stuff, but hadn't heard this one yet. It says on her website she toured a show with Marti Jones? How could I have missed that?

And am I the only one who thinks "Subterranean Homesick Blues" during the guitar intro?

Uncle E said...

Oh, you truly are a music nerd...AND I DIG THAT ABOUT YOU!

Marie said...

She's good, but Gillian Welch is better since you brought her up. Time The Revelator is one of the best female albums since Tapestry. I saw her a few years ago at Jazzfest in New Orleans, majestic.

Holly A Hughes said...

I guess this is one of those situations where terms like "better" and "best" don't apply. Gillian's voice is so lovely, much purer and finer than Amy's -- but so far I just haven't heard any songs by her that hit the right vein for me. Even though she made "Spooked" with that adorable Robyn Hitchcock! I've heard several of her songs on Sirius (Meg Griffin plays her A LOT) but I've yet to hear something that makes me sit up and get excited. Amy Rigby's stuff delivered that punch from the very first song of hers that crept into my consciousness. There's no accounting for taste.