Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Skin

My Skin (from the album Ophelia)

Take a look at my body, look at my hands
there's so much here that I don't understand
Your face saving promises, whispered like prayers
I don't need them, I don't need them

I've been treated so wrong, I've been treated so long
as if I'm becoming untouchable

Contempt loves the silence, it thrives in the dark
with fine winding tendrils that strangle the heart
They say that promises sweeten the blow
but I don't need them, no I don't need them

I've been treated so wrong, I've been treated so long
as if I'm becoming untouchable

I'm a slow dying flower, frost killing hour
the sweet turning sour and untouchable

O, I need the darkness
the sweetness, the sadness
the weakness, I need this

I need a lullaby, a kiss goodnight
angel sweet, love of my life
O, I need this

Do you remember the way that you touched me before
all the trembling sweetness I loved and adored?
Your face saving promises, whispered like prayers
I don't need them, no I don't need them

O, I need the darkness
the sweetness, the sadness
the weakness, I need this

I need a lullaby, a kiss goodnight
angel sweet, love of my life
I need this

Is it dark enough? can you see me?
do you want me? can you reach me?
or I'm leaving

You better shut your mouth, hold your breath
kiss me now, you'll catch your death
O, I mean this



So here it is. The first song of many to be delved into a little bit deeper. I chose My Skin as the first song for discussion not just because I love it but because I've come to believe it might actually be Natalie's most popular song. I know, I know, you think this sounds crazy. What about Wonder you say. What about Kind and Generous? Carnival? All very, very popular and certainly more well-known by the masses than this little gem. But if you doubt me on this, I suggest you do the following: go to Youtube, enter the search words “Natalie Merchant” and just see what comes up. What you will find is that a good 70% of the videos that come up are videos people have made using the song My Skin. In fact, to aid in proving my point, just now I searched the words “Natalie Merchant My Skin” on Youtube and there were 1,120 search results. Sometimes it's someone's personal cover rendition of the song (a bold decision indeed.) More often than not, though, these videos consist of odd mash-up scenes of characters from the creator's favorite movies or TV shows, usually romantic couplings, and My Skin plays in the background.

In the spirit of candor, I must say...I abhor these videos.

My Skin is a top ten Natalie Merchant tune for me and listening to it serve as the musical score to scenes of vapid teenage vampire romance is enough to make me ill. I know that music is in its very essence interpretive, though, so I'm willing to at least concede the fact that I appreciate that people recognize the beauty and worthiness of this song.

So what makes My Skin so good? Namely, everything. Not to put too fine a point on it. Let's start with the music. In my opinion (and for the record, this is the last time I'll be using the phrase “in my opinion” on this blog because it seems a bit redundant - it is called Annie's Natalie Merchant Blog after all) the piano playing on this song is as good and maybe better than any other song Natalie has recorded. Here is what Natalie has said on the subject:

“On the song My Skin, I like hearing my piano working: this hulking piece of wood with metal strings, hammers hitting, things reverberating and squeaking and cracking. I like that we didn't try to cover up those sounds, because that's what the instrument is about.”*

The reverberation is the thing I notice most and the density of that sounds feels like such a natural companion to the weight of the words. Oh yes...the words. I always thought the words were beautiful, but it wasn't until I discovered what inspired the lyrics that I was able to fully appreciate them. Here is another quote from Natalie:

“My Skin...was inspired by a friend of mine who had written a screenplay about a woman who was dying of cancer, and her husband could only see her as a victim of disease, and he couldn't really see her as the woman he loved, and was attracted to, anymore. And in the screenplay, she's just desperate for him to make love to her one more time before she dies, so she can feel like a woman again.”**


If that premise doesn't spark any emotion for you, there is a reasonable chance you are dead. This is the same information that makes it difficult for me to accept this song being played in Youtube videos with titles like, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – My Skin” (not making that up.) If Natalie's intention was to convey the intense, painful and intimate feelings of a person trapped in the situation she describes in the above quote, she certainly succeeded. If she also intended to break our hearts in the process, I dare say that was a success too. She sings the song in a voice that is fractured, even broken at times and this only adds to the beauty and devastating sadness of the song.

So those are my thoughts. What about you?

*Keyboard Magazine – February 1999
**All Things Considered – August 1998

7 comments:

  1. Yes, this song is achingly beautiful. That's why I can never listen to it, I have no heartbreaks to spare.

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  2. I've never really liked My Skin. It was too slow and boring. Then I found out what it was about and now I really like it. Still, musically, not one of my favorites, but I do like the song a lot.

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  3. I love playing the ending on piano.

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  4. This is a very powerful song, definably one of the best songs Nat has done. It has surprised me to realized, that yes, this is the most popular song on YouTube by her. I often wonder if Nat knows that. One would think it would be Carnival or Wonder.
    I was able to guess what the song was about, excluding the cancer patient bit. It does make it more emotional. Nat is very talented to pull this song off, specially conveying all the heartbreak and despair.

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  5. Just seen Natalie live at the Bridgewater in Manchester, UK. What a concert. Natalie is superb. My only regret is not shouting out "My Skin" because it's my favorite. But then again the Bridgewater is not the kind of place you shout out requests; not in the circle anyway. Everything she does is high art.

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  6. This song touched me deeply after losing my husband to cancer, describing the intense saddness.

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  7. This song touched me deeply it makes me think of my past and how I survived domestic violence. This song is full of emotion and will forever be my favorite

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