I have an exercise playlist called, simply, "Chicks." Hitting the gym this weekend (thank you, New Year's resolution), I was struck anew by this track, which drifted into my iTunes library, sent to me on a compilation disc by my friend Jim S. from Seattle. It's dwelled there quietly for a while.
And then, the other day, it took over my brain. Which is a good thing.
I'm told that this song was a musical highlight of the film Magnolia. Having never seen Magnolia, I couldn't say -- as directors go, I'm more of a Wes Anderson fan than a Paul Thomas Anderson fan. So I come to the table with no movie-programmed reaction to this song. Nevertheless, I adore it.
Aimee Mann has already won a spot on my roster of Chicks Who Tell It Like It Is. But for some reason -- even though she once opened for the Kinks -- I have resisted making her one of my Home Girls. Time to change that.
The title reminds me of Fontella Bass's classic "Rescue Me" -- all appetite and sassy demands -- but "Save Me" is an entirely different sort of song. It's not about physical desire so much as the head games we ladies play with ourselves, way too often. Check out the backdoor way Aimee delineates why this woman has become so needful of this man. Against that loungy-yet-ominous tempo, it starts oh-so innocuously -- "You look like a perfect fit." But really, how romantic is that? And she quickly types herself as "The girl in need of a tourniquet." First-aid alert!
And then the chorus cycles in, diving to the crux of the matter. "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." A-HA! There we are. Raise your hand if you have EVER counted yourself in that not-so-exclusive club. Every time that chorus repeats, I feel tagged.
Note that she doesn't say the expected "freaks who suspect they will never be loved." Sure, there are legions of those, too. But those "who will never love anyone"? That's an even sadder and lonelier bunch, trapped between their own inadequacy and their crippling consciousness of it.
Mind you, she's still on the brink of this relationship, still checking things out, testing the waters. Is he a worthy candidate? And note that it's less about him and his personal attractions than it is about her and her need. Really, anybody reasonably available would do.
Dig how brilliantly she uses key changes to signal the tentativeness of all this. The darkly cynical tone of the verses morphs uneasily to the tentative hope of the chorus, with its short, faltering phrases of lyrics. That transition from the freaks to the beloved is SO HUGE. Some of us are still working on it.
But here we are, still hoping. And as she references sufragettes ("the long farewell of the hunger strike") we find ourselves clinging to our split desire to be independent and yet beloved.
As the bridge puts it, "You struck me down / Like radium [Marie Curie alert for us smart girls!] / Like Peter Pan / or Superman / You will come...." We've all been programmed to believe in heroes who will swoop in and save us. How hard it is to give up that faith.
Sometimes I resent a song for recycling the chorus over and over. Not this time. Every time Aimee mentions "the ranks of the freaks" my heart leaps up. Because I am in those ranks, I harbor those suspicions, I deal with that self-doubting reflex every day. And I do not think that I am alone in this.
I know that I'm still waiting to be saved. How about you?