Thursday, March 08, 2012

King of Anything / Sara Bareilles

You want to see a pissed-off woman, you should have seen me two weeks ago when my replacement hard drive also decided to crash, putting me off-line again. But I'm back -- and wrapping up Hell Hath No Fury Week, just a feee-eee-ew days late.

I'll admit, I had very little interest in Sara Bareilles until she showed up as one of the judges of The Sing-Off, alongside the perenially adorable Ben Folds. Sara replaced that girl from the Pussycat Dolls -- you know the one -- whose name I refuse to learn, and yeah, yeah, the third judge is sweater-boy Shawn Stockman from Boyz 2 Men, who has been slowly growing on me. But let's face it, I watch the show for Ben Folds.

Turns out Sara was a natural addition to the show, since she herself started out in a capella groups. And while her notes to the contestants are never as detailed as Ben's ("I heard your second soprano lose pitch," he consults his notes, "about a half-tone in measure 48, which really threw off your key change..."), she still impressed me with her musical knowledge. So I did what any music fan does these days -- I went to iTunes and listened to snippets of various songs -- her big hit, "Love Song," is the one you'll recognize -- to cherry-pick one or two that I liked. I'll let those swap around in the stewpot of my Shuffle for awhile and then see if I feel like splurging on a whole Sara Bareilles album someday.

 But this one jumped right to the top of my playlist, and for obvious reasons.  Don't be misled by the perky opening -- Sara Bareilles is not about perky. This girl is so sassy, so sure of herself, you can tell she's not even going to waste her time, not with this guy.  This is better than a break-up song; it's a pre-break-up song.

Dig the specificity of that coffee shop setting, the cars crawling past the window, the awkward pauses in their conversation -- awkward at least for her, who's given up trying to get a word in edgewise. We can only guess what kind of superior advice he's dispensing, judging from her (unspoken) side of the conversation:  "I hate to break it to you, babe, but I'm not drowning," "I'm not the one who's lost, with no direction," and in the refrain, with its syncopated hoots of scorn, "You dare tell me who to be?" He's cast himself in the role of the hero who'll save her, but she sees that for the hoary old-movie cliche it is: "But you expect me to jump up on board with you / and ride off into your delusional sunset."

I can just picture this guy -- a beard, probably, an artfully ratty sweater, maybe an esoteric tattoo or two.  I can imagine how confidently he lounges on the banquette, occupying more than his share of the booth. Sitting across the table from him, fighting for oxygen, she takes refuge in silent snarky observations: "You've got opinions, well, we're all entitled to 'em," "You're so busy making maps / With my name on them in all caps," and, my personal favorite, "You got the talking down, just not the listening."  For the refrain, she twists a snide cliche into her own mantra of empowerment: "Who died and made you king of anything?"  
But in the bridge, as the melody turns dreamy and the arrangement lush, she admits that this self-possession of hers is only a recent discovery. "All my life / I've tried / To make everybody happy while I / Just hurt / And hide / Waiting for someone to tell me its my turn / To decide." How many of us were raised like that, to be good little girls and please everybody in our lives?  How hard it is to un-learn those lessons -- and how essential. 

Then those triumphant staggered intervals break in again, Bah bah, bah bah / Bah bah. bah bah (I hear echoes of Jackie DeShannon and Burt Bacharach, those quintessential interpreters of SoCal culture) as, gathering up her new courage, she launches back into taunting the King of Anything.  "Lemme hold your crown, babe," she purrs, but the way I see the scene, she's already on her feet and walking out of that coffee shop. C'mon, boots, start walking!