Sunday, January 06, 2013

"Save Me" / Aimee Mann

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?


Uncle E said...

Charmer, the 2012 release from Amy, is a wonderful collection. Great to get a point of view on "Save Me" from someone who has not seen Magnolia. I myself cannot separate the song from the movie.

Mister Pleasant said...

Excellent and heartfelt analysis, Holly. From the moment I first experienced Magnolia in 2000 it has been my favorite film. Full of human foibles and mistakes that sometimes lead to growth and even redemption. P. T. Anderson has stated that Aimee's songs were the genesis for several of the characters. A significant portion of the soundtrack consists of her songs, and Jon Brion's production is staggeringly good.

There is a coda to "Save Me" that you get only in the film version. You should watch it just to experience a moment of true catharsis.

Holly A Hughes said...

Am I the only person in America who has never seen Magnolia? Clearly, from every comment I've gotten here and on Facebook, I need to remedy that NOW. Better head over to Netflix and see what instant streaming can do for me . . .

Uncle E said...

"We may be done with the past, but the past ain't done with us."

soozzip said...

Ditto on Magnolia - please do see it. And while we're at it, I think you should give PT Anderson films, in general, another look, because he's a modern maestro of relatable pathology, and amazing visual imagery. (Though, you can skip his latest, The Master, imho.)

Anon, interestingly enough, I just downloaded the first season of "Portlandia," and am watching the series for the first time. There's a pretty great bit in which Aimee Mann guest stars as the principle characters' house cleaner. She performs "Save Me," so the song was on my mind this morning as I was checking your blog. :)

Thanks, as always, Holly, for your great insights. Hopefully we can all find the tenacity and spirit to save ourselves, to be our own kind heroes. Love is grand, but it ain't the true redeemer.


Holly A Hughes said...

Okay, folks, I finally cleared 3 HOURS to watch Magnolia. Had to do it at night -- clearly not a matinee type of film. Not exactly a family movie night, either.

I can see that it is a brilliant and even haunting film -- gripping multiple plot lines, powerful acting (even Tom Cruise!), and a possibly profound script. But I do not believe it would ever become my favorite movie. Dark I don't mind; sad I can deal with. But all those miserable lives wore me down. What a wrist-slitter! Unlike the more recent film [i]Crash[/i] - which no doubt stole heavily from Anderson's bag of tricks -- grace and redemption show up way too late, and are too pallid, to effectively convert despair to hope. Pain and suffering are only worth watching if the catharsis has the power to heal.

But enough film criticism for today. I'm glad I finally saw it, and I love how he used the Aimee Mann songs as an inextricable part of the fabric of the film. If only every director treated movie music with such respect!

PS Has Philip Seymour Hoffman EVER turned in a bad film performance?

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, and PS sooozzip -- I actually kinda liked The Master. But then again, it gave me a bigger dose of P.S. Hoffman plus that strange and wild Joaqun Phoenix performance. The story may have been depressing, but the virtuoso acting trumped it.

NickS said...

I should recommend Ghost World as a film which has some very nice moments of redemption.

I've described it in the past by saying that if you start with the Tom Lehrer remark, "Speaking of love, one problem that recurs more and more frequently these days in books,and plays,and movies on, is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love." In Ghost World communication is difficult and often painful, but the characters do get to be heard and understood and those moments are wonderful.

[Note, I love the film but haven't read the comic. I've heard that the comic is less optimistic than the movie. Also, I still haven't seen Magnolia I was just responding to your description.]