(16) natalie imbruglia, "torn"
(5) Joan osborne, "one of us"
AND WILL PLAY OMC, "HOW BIZARRE" IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP ON 3/30
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 29th.
4x4: analysis of the 4 final 4 songs by the 4 essayists involved
One of Us: True story: Last month, my wife checked us into a hotel during a trip. When she came back with the room keys, our daughter and I discovered that she had accepted Room 666. We were duly alarmed, but my wife mocked our concern. Within a day she had come down with a terrible flu, completely bedridden, forced to lie alone in the dark until we brought her safely home. All I am saying is I would think very carefully before voting against this song.
Torn: I’ve been trying hard to figure out what this song is actually about. After watching the video several times, I’ve concluded it’s about what happens to J. Crew models when the catalogue shoot is over. They make out for awhile and then mysterious men come and take all their Ikea furniture and then even their walls and their doors. This is very sad, but it’s not sad enough to vote against God.
Prediction: God smites the catalogue models and gives their furniture to the poor. —Reed Karaim
First, I'd like to acknowledge that OMC & I occupy a Final Four spot which rightfully belongs to the noble Sir Mix-a-Lot, and compete here in his honor.
I hesitate to say why I think these other three songs made it, lest I alienate more voters than my aspersions cast at "Walking in Memphis" apparently already have. (My apologies to the Cohnish loyalists; this is not a hill I want to die on.) And I probably don't need to point out the dominant hue of the other three finalists. And, while the other side of the bracket is a bit earnest for my taste, I have--for the first time in this tournament--nothing bad to say about our semifinal opponent. Any band of outspoken anarchists who told Nike to shove a million-dollar licensing offer is cool with me; I'm speculating here, but OMC would likely agree. And my counterpart's trenchant essay does a good song justice.
"Tubthumping" and "How Bizarre" seem to me kindred: both are catchy and energetic, were ubiquitous in the late '90s, polarize voters, and are darker and more complex, lyrically and contextually, than they get credit for. So vote your conscience, folks. It probably doesn't matter who wins: in either case, we'll be fighting an uphill battle against emo nostalgia in the final. (And let's be honest, nobody's beating "Torn," although I'd pay good money to see Fuemana vs. Imbruglia in an Australasian showdown.)
My picks: OMC over Chumbawamba, Imbruglia over Osborne. —Justin St Germain
One of Us: I've always liked this song. Obviously, I want "Torn" to win, so anything I say will be suspect, but I almost think the song is too good to be the winner. I think that it is the pop-radio friendly song that hooked us, so we would buy her CD and listen to songs like "St. Teresa" and the other songs with more artistry. But I do like the song.
Torn: Among the many reasons you should vote for Torn, I will mention just two: You should vote for Torn because it would be cool to see a play-in song win the tournament. Also, I think it will make Donald Trump very, very mad if Torn wins the whole damn thing. —Aaron Smith
Like you, perhaps, I remember a few things about owning Left of the Middle (on which "Torn" was the first song). One is having a crush on her. Another is noticing her lips—or, rather, her makeup—on the album cover: her lipstick didn’t make it quite to the edge of her lips, which discomfited me. Third, I felt betrayed when I found out that my favorite song on the album was a cover. When I listen to this song, I still have a crush on Natalie. I still feel in love with everyone I wasn’t comfortable loving throughout the last years of the 20th century. I am thirty years old, and this song means a lot to me. I think this song is in the final four because there are probably a lot of people my general demographic voting (are you not, too, an early-thirties queer woman?), and because this song is stirring, beautiful, and obviously very important.
Joan Osborne didn’t write “One of Us,” like Natalie Imbruglia didn’t write “Torn,” though I don’t feel betrayed anymore by either fact. I’m not sure why any of us would care about this anyway. Milton claimed he didn’t write Paradise Lost and we fucking loved that guy for it. I think this song is in the final four because it’s a gorgeous song, some rare combination of mournful and celebratory, sexy and mundane, and it's passed to us from above—or, rather, across some non-hierarchical metaphysical boundary—through a gorgeous, fierce, nose-ringed, anti-Trump, ringlet-laden messenger. If you find the impulse rising in you to refute this, may I suggest loving everything instead. It’s what Joan wants you to do, and it’ll feel better anyway. —Hannah Ensor
HANNAH ENSOR ON "ONE OF US"
I sometimes fantasize about being a touring drummer for a 90s singer-songwriter. She’s someone I admire, but not someone I idolize so much that we couldn’t hang out. I might have a little crush on her: just enough to smooth out our socializing, to give us reason to chat. If you’re listening to “One of Us,” as I hope you are while reading this, listen to just the drumming for a second. Do you hear how easy and fun that would be? You could do, like, anything, and not have to be very good at all. Every four bars or so you would just move your hands over to some other part of the drum set but keep all your hands and feet essentially doing the same thing with slight variations. At some point—say, while the guitar solos—you could do the thing that for most of the song you were doing on the slightly-parted hi-hats but do it over close to the dome of the ride cymbal. For dramatic effect, later, you might stop playing anything but a cymbal and the snare drum. She might make you harmonize into a microphone even though you’re not a singer, which works because the song’s premise is imagining what it’d be like if God was just good, not great, so you don’t have to be particularly sonorous. Just on-key and a normal level of talented. And, when you’re not ping-ping-pinging on the ride cymbal, when the crowd’s not calling out someone’s name that isn’t your name, watching every move of a hero who’s not you, you could spend the day, all day every day, until doors at 7:00 or so, reading books and writing poems.
This is the kind of dreaming I do when I’m not fixated on the idea of Donald Trump killing us all, of me finding out about it at 11 PM on a Monday night. I’ve been staying pretty close to my phone, waiting for the thing I’ve known was going to happen my whole life.
Time was once that people thought “One of Us” was disrespectful because Joan Osborne offered a possibility that God was “just a slob like one of us.” A certain subset of people went on television, furious. What is it with contemporary Christianity and loathing? It’s pretty fucking capitalist, to be against the slob. Always a looking down. WWJD? Does anyone self-identify as a slob? One thing is certain and that’s that “slob” is a word that has to do with productivity. There’s a way of looking at it that says that God in all these stories is productive, but from my non-scholarly seat I’d say that’s really just at the start of each of the books. There’s the part where He makes everything, and there’s the part where He sends His Son. What else does God do, though? Was it “productive” to flood the earth? God gave the instructions for building the ark, but His main role in that story was the part where He brought the water. God did not create jobs. God did not build a WalMart. Was God a slob? Some people have suggested that Trump spent his first few days writing executive orders just to get the presidency out of the way. On the first day, he… On the second day…
On a lark, I google “productivity slob late capitalism” and find my way to an article about how Trump won the presidency through the power of entertainment and gestural comedy. It points to a moment in the campaign when Trump, at a rally, teased John Kasich for eating quickly—in Trump’s caricature, Kasich shoves pancakes into his mouth in front of the press. The article posits,
In this dramatization of Kasich’s table manners, we are again confronted by a display of discomfort with non-normative bodies. It is well known that Trump avoided the fray of vernacular embodiment on the campaign trail by rarely eating with locals, even though this activity is expected of presidential candidates. In fact, Trump is famous for eating even fast food with a knife and a fork. Anthropologists familiar with the work of Norbert Elias (1982) and Pierre Bourdieu (1982) on the importance of table manners to class distinction would recognize Trump’s enactment as a veiled class assault: Kasich is a slob, a low life, a “subhuman” who would have difficulty being presidential. Trump, in contrast, is a man who teaches his children to exhibit good manners and eat politely in “small bites.”
When I listen to Joan Osborne’s “One of Us,” I get very emotional. Or, to get the rhythm of it more right, I listen to the song a few times on repeat with some quick returns to “St. Teresa,” I’ll be feeling really good, loving her, rocking out (I’m usually in my car), and then with seemingly no pattern or reason, I’ll be hit with it. It’ll creep up my chest and I’ll get it right behind the eyes. Yeah. Yeah.
I have been finding religion through these times. I’ve been praying, actually praying. I started right before the election. It didn’t do any good. A poet I know recently told me that my generation is too fixated on results. She said we need to protest, show up, talk to our representatives, not because it’ll work (she says it won’t), but because we need to live ethical lives. She’s right. She told me she would write me a letter about it and title it “Dear H.”
Dear God, why aren’t You helping? Are You helping? Is this You helping, all of us out in the streets? Cancelling our Uber accounts and instead taking a cab to go see our representatives? Did You help through the judge ordering a stay on Trump’s Muslim Ban? Is it You that moved that veteran, the one with four purple hearts, to drive four hours with his young son to be at the Dulles airport to protest? Did You at least see it, when he pinned one of his purple hearts to the shirt of an Iraqi husband, reunited with his wife after the stay was granted? Did You see me crying on my bed?
Should I mention here that I’m a Jew? Is that of any concrete use to this inquiry? Jews like to close read. Jews don’t totally get what’s going on with all this New Testament stuff. I’m a Jew who still doesn’t understand why some books got to be gospels and others didn’t. The Jews’ God, I have to say, is much closer to a slob than Jesus is. Jesus loved slobs, but He wasn’t one. He was, of course, “One of Us,” in a much more structural way than the Torah’s God. But the God of our Book is awesome (in new and old uses of the word) very much because he’s sloppy, sometimes (or even pretty often) wrong, impetuous, gets pissed, destroys everything, tells fathers to carry their sons up mountains to kill them only to pull back at the last minute for some unknown but presumably moral rationale that we’re still wrestling with, arguing over, shrugging and saying we’ll never understand. He puts His people in bad positions, hard ones. Maybe the thing is: He sets up all these scenarios in which people might become slobs, but they have to be something with more fortitude, for better or for worse. A lot of times it’s not for better. It reminds me a little of what my great-grandmother told my great aunt and my grandmother: You have to behave yourselves because someday the world will be the world again. My family, other people’s families, families in Poland and in Rwanda and in the U.S./the Americas before there were geopolitical lines cutting it all up (and in the U.S./the Americas through and after the geopolitical lines) and in the Torah: at no point have we been just allowed to chill, peacefully, by the banks of a river carving slowly through the desert. We haven’t been allowed to be slobs, but it’s not because slobs are bad, at least I don’t think that’s why not.
I think about Jesus a lot these days, and I think I like him. My great aunt collected Catholic icons and put them on the walls of her house. It seemed at many moments of my life an odd choice for someone who had survived the Shoah despite other humans’ best attempts, but at this moment I’m gaining a little access into it all. It’s not a Christian thing, and it’s definitely not a “Jews for Jesus” thing. Not for me, anyway. I can’t speak for her, not at all.
My God is not better than yours. I don’t know anything about yours, or honestly anything about mine. I know that as a kid I loved Sister Act, and when I re-watched it recently I wept through the whole movie. I know that I have a “Magic Created The World, Only Magic Can Heal It” bumper sticker on my wall. I know nothing about Joan Osborne’s relationship to her own spirituality. I know that mine changes probably daily. It’s growing fast these days in messy outward motions – horizontal and spin-wise, not vertical. Not necessarily toward any particular texts or traditions. I’ve always liked community. I feel deep allegiance to my family. I know there are a couple of sticky subjects that get hard to talk about, or to think about; I think we’re all moral relativists, trying to make our way home. When I imagine turning my head upwards and praying to an individual, I think of that scene in The Lion King when Simba sees his father in the night sky. I’ve been getting acupuncture a lot recently, and a friend cleansed my chakras. I watch Lady Ghostbusters regularly and believe it’s a parable for modern times. It is the 21st century and for reasons inextricable from my relationship to the patriarchy and a queer lineage I still pop Relish into my car CD player every few months or so and sing along full-throatedly as I glide down the streets of Tucson. I believe in epigenetics, and that I have a fight inscribed in my genes. I’d spent all this time assuming it was weakness—and now I know it’s a super power.
I think I would be okay with this being the song I listen to while I die.
The album version of “One of Us” starts with an old lady. Or, rather, with an old recording—made on October 27, 1937 by American folklorists Alan & Elizabeth Lomax for the Archive of American Folk Song—of an old lady—Mrs. Nell Hampton—singing an old song—a hymn written in 1928. To honor the great folklorist and believer, hypothesizer, wonderer, Joan Osborne, and for all the ladies who are both one of us and more, I’ll end the same place she starts:
So one of these nights and about twelve o'clock
This old world's going to reel and rock
Saints will tremble and cry for pain
For the Lord's gonna come in his heavenly airplane
Hannah Ensor is from Michigan and received her MFA in poetry at the University of Arizona. She coordinates the Reading & Lecture Series and the Summer Residency Program at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, and is also a co-editor of textsound.org, a contributing poetry editor for DIAGRAM, and has served as president of the board of directors of Casa Libre en la Solana, a literary arts nonprofit in Tucson, Arizona. Her first book is forthcoming from Noemi Press.
AARON SMITH ON "TORN"
I was supposed to be writing an essay about Natalie Imbruglia’s song “Torn” when my mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It was in the back of my head that I had a deadline approaching. Over the course of three weeks, I sat in rooms waiting to see what each doctor would say about my mother: urologist (You have a big mass in your kidney); urologist again (Your lungs are clear); oncology urologist (You’ve had this tumor for at least fifteen years); and the post-surgery room where they take you and you worry the news is bad because they’ve isolated you. Thankfully, my mother’s prognosis is good: after the doctor cut her in half, pulled out her kidney, he said: Good news and She did great. He even drew us a picture with a pencil (kidney mass as a big scribbly circle and a “thrombus” (a new word we learned) moving toward her liver). My whole family listened rapt and confused and relieved. I kept thinking: those hands have been inside my mother.
Every day after the diagnosis I told myself I’d work on the essay at night before bed. I’d hum the beginning of the chorus: “I’m all out of faith. / This is how I feel.” And then I’d get distracted or too tired or someone in my family would need something or I’d think: what if her cancer is as bad as we are afraid to imagine. I’d say to myself on the back porch: “I don’t think I can leave her body in the ground and drive the fourteen hours back home to Boston.”
I first encountered “Torn” on MTV when I was in graduate school. I mostly wanted to fuck the guy in the video, whom I found out is gay in real life when I bought an expensive British magazine in a gay bookstore on Pittsburgh’s South Side that put everything a person bought into a brown paper bag. The bag told everyone you had a secret and it was sexy. This was right as the internet was beginning: bare-bones email and picture-less gay chat rooms, but nothing elaborate, and porn was still a tangible thing on VHS that my friends and I passed to one another, a kind of intimacy knowing which scene a friend liked and exactly what they were into. But it wasn’t just sex I hid. It was anything that marked me as a fag. My shame then was a tumor as big and sick as my mother’s.
Like I imagine many guys who grew up gay in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I got used to imagining myself in the place of women in movies, television and videos. Every shirtless stud was on top of me. That man was bringing me flowers. The guy, Jeremy Sheffield, in the “Torn” video might actually love me if I had glossy lips, a pixie haircut and tugged my sleeves like Natalie singing about being “naked on the floor.” I didn’t know then that guys like Jeremy—muscled, gorgeous, floppy-haired—don’t usually date chubby, balding guys like me who wear glasses; they usually date guys who look like them: Narcissus pinching his own nipples, staring into the stream. I hadn’t had sex with a man at that point, but I’d been every woman fucked by every sweaty man in every movie: Sharon Stone in Sliver, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl kissing Harrison Ford out of his dress shirt, Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks.
Everyone kept praying for my mother. Each text from her friends: Praise god! We have everyone praying! Wait and see what god can do! And I kept thinking: why did god let her get cancer and carry it around in her body for over fifteen years? Why did she have to have cancer while her mother was dying? Why did she have cancer when she scrubbed the kitchen cabinets on Saturdays? Why did she have cancer at my parents’ fortieth anniversary party my sister and I threw when she looked so pretty and happy and cancerless. I’m all out of faith. This is how I feel.
Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” written by American alternative-rock band Ednaswap, survives because of the melody, the springy guitar at the beginning, the catchy, spin-around-your-room-in-a-circle push of it, the chorus and the electric guitar leading us out of the song while Natalie thrashes in her blue hoodie (the blonde homo in the baby-blue sweater and nineties corduroys who, for obvious reasons, can’t seem to get the kiss right).
The lyrics really don’t make sense: “I thought I saw a man brought to life. / He was warm, he came around like he was dignified. / He showed me what it was to cry.” It’s as if the writers needed a rhyme, something to fit the established structure. What does dignity have to do with crying in this scenario? “Illusion never changed / into something real” leads us eventually to “You're a little late. / I'm already torn.” Wasn’t he, like my mother’s cancer, already there?
I look at these lyrics and feel like I can make sense out of them sometimes, but then I feel like my writing students who try and try to understand a poem that makes no sense, that only the writer (barely) understands, and then try to convince me with republican-spin that it’s obvious, common sense, not confusing at all. I always say: “Sounds like you’re writing a poem instead of reading one.” I guess wanting to believe in anything requires a bit of spin—like Natalie twirling on that set—more work than we should be asked to do and still not quite making sense.
“So I guess the fortune teller's right. / I should have seen just what was there /and not some holy light.” Now that things are looking good for my mother, everyone keeps saying that god had a hand in the result. I keep thinking about the doctor’s hand opening her torso. I asked a lover once which finger he put inside me, and he flipped me off across the bed: fuck you and this is how I fucked you. How to make sense of what’s inside us? How to make meaning? Do we need it?
Maybe some songs just feel good. Maybe it’s okay not to understand, not to pick at the threads. Maybe it’s not necessary to point out whether a thing is poorly constructed or not. Maybe songs like “Torn” let us fuck a British guy in a video and imagine a life, even briefly, where we can have everything we want just the way we want it. Maybe the point is to belt out with passion silly words that sound good together because we don’t have the right words for things we don’t even know are inside us?
Perhaps songs like “Torn” are aptly titled “one-hit wonders.” There’s no need to really think about them, but year after year they come back to us because it just feels good to sing, because it just feels good to get fucked. They help us deal with the fact that there isn’t a god who gives a shit about us. We don’t need to waste our time hiding the things we want in brown bags.
Just because “the perfect sky is torn” doesn’t mean we have to look.
Aaron Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Primer, Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground. He is assistant professor in creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.