Friday, May 16, 2014

Life is Sweet (and goodbye)

Over the years, I’ve told you a few stories about how I came to be a fan of Natalie Merchant’s music. How when I was a kid I thought she was terrible (still makes me cringe to type those words.) How seeing Natalie in concert for the first time in 2001 turned me into the kind of dedicated fan that, you know…writes this blog. But I’ve never told you about the gap between these two events. If I disliked her so much as a youngster, how did I end up at her concert anyways?

The answer is a song called Life Is Sweet.

I first heard this song playing on the radio in my 1985 Toyota Corolla while I was driving to work. I was 18 years old. My first instinct was to turn to another station, but I was too lazy. And, also, there was something in the music that got my attention. After the song was over, I thought, “That was a pretty good song, actually.” As in, “That was a pretty good song for Natalie Merchant.” (Yep, still cringing.)

It took awhile, but eventually I heard the song again. After that I knew that it wasn’t a pretty good song – it was a great song. I needed to own it. But I proceeded cautiously. I wasn’t jumping on a bandwagon just yet. I went on the interwebs and ordered the cheapest used copy of Ophelia I could find. Yeah, super committed, right? I think it cost like $8 and was purchased from a website called CD Universe. It came alone in a manila envelope – just the disc, no case, no liner notes. My first open-minded introduction to Natalie Merchant came with a picture of her in a short blond wig posing with a hula hoop. Shrug.

I listened to that disc a lot. Mostly I listened to Life Is Sweet, over and over and over again. I started to talk to a friend of mine about Natalie Merchant. She was more of a fan than I was, so a couple of years later when we had the opportunity to see Natalie in concert, we took it.

And here we are.

I’ve said before that I think Motherland is Natalie’s best song. But Life Is Sweet is and will always be my favorite Natalie Merchant song. Everything that has attracted me to Natalie’s music – both sonically and lyrically – is perfectly encapsulated in this song. If Natalie’s greatest hope for her music is that it would be a source of comfort to others (and from the numerous quotes from Natalie I’ve posted on this blog over the years, I think that presumption is a safe bet), then this song surely must be the pinnacle of her achievements.

True comfort comes, not from hollow platitudes, but from commiseration coupled with hope. The lyrics of Life Is Sweet tackle the kind of long-standing hurts that nearly every human being finds relatable. But the way they achieve this is fascinating to me. By using lyrics that are very specific but at the same time somewhat obscure, the end result is a song that feels entirely universal.

You wanna stay little daddy's girl
Wanna hide from the vicious world outside
Your daddy he's the iron man
A battleship wrecked on dry land
Your mama she's a bitter bride
She'll never be satisfied
Your daddy the war machine and
Your mama the long and suffering
Prisoner of what she can not see
Something tells me that nearly every person who hears this song will find some way in which these words feel terribly true to them. But I’m guessing if we all compared our reasons why, the answers would be all over the board. And maybe entirely too difficult to put into words. But it does ring so true, doesn’t it?

And, of course, the opening words to the song would be enough to do in any 18 year old (or 32 year old *ahem*):

It's a pity
It's a crying shame
Who pulled you down again?
How painful it must be
To bruise so easily inside
It makes me wonder, if I heard this song for the first time tomorrow, would it mean the same to me? I don’t know the answer. I hope it would. But there is something in these words that seems so undeniably meant to be heard during those years in life where everything is just so confusing and downheartening. I don’t bruise as easy I used to. I’m thankful for that. But I won’t forget what it felt like. I’m glad Natalie Merchant didn’t forget either.

Life Is Sweet is no pity party, though. Natalie has always been a bit bossy in her lyrics (and in her live performances.) Some people see this as off-putting. Me? Not so much. I love this about her. Maybe we are drawn to Natalie’s music because she sort of seems like the perfect parent? (Paging Dr. Freud.) No, really, I mean it. When you fall and hurt yourself or when some other kid hurts your feelings, you want consolation first, but then, ultimately, you want someone to tell you when it’s time to stop crying, when it’s time to toughen up.

It's high time you decide
It's time you make up your own sweet little mind

They told you life is long
Be thankful when it's done
Don't ask for more
You should be grateful

I know some of you will be sad to read this last post on this blog. I’m feeling pretty sad writing it. But I’m thankful that it’s done, and I won’t ask for more. And for all of you that have read faithfully over the years, and written me so many kind words of praise, commiseration, and encouragement, I am truly, truly grateful.

Years ago, I listened to a segment on the show All Songs Considered where the two hosts were talking about breaking up with beloved bands – what led them to the brink, what pushed them over the brink, how sometimes they ended up getting back together after many years. Since I’ve always had a somewhat romantic notion of my relationship to music, and particularly to musicians and bands I really love, this kind of analogy really spoke to me. One of the hosts, though, said that there was one particular musician that he would never break up with, no matter what happened. Even if he put out a terrible record, or even a bunch of terrible records. Then he said something that hit me so strongly that I always knew I would include it in this last post. He said: “To me, it sort of goes beyond friends. He has gained my trust so much that he almost feels like family.”
Yep. That’s exactly how I feel about Natalie Merchant’s music. It’s so much a part of my life that…well, for once, words fail me. So maybe I should let Natalie have the last word:
“The little place I carved out for myself is such an emotional place for so many people, and that makes me feel good that I've made something that's so useful.”*
I couldn’t have said it better myself.

*Broward Palm Beach New Times - August 2010

So…you’re still here, huh?

Well, as I mentioned on my last post, even though the Natalie Merchant Compendium Blog is coming to an end, I have another project to tell you about. I’ve started a new blog about music – one called Annie’s Music-y Thoughts (I might change the name at some point, that’s the best I could do for now.) This blog is going to be about random songs I love. You never know, future Natalie Merchant songs could end up on that blog too! As of yet, I haven’t posted anything on this blog, but it’s gonna happen – and soon.

Lastly, with regard to this blog, I will continue to check for and respond to comments and emails to the address. I also have an email set up for my other  blog – I’m still always interested in hearing your thoughts on these songs. Write me anytime.

You guys…thanks again. So much. This has been more fun and more rewarding than you can know.


  1. No, thank you. I just saw her a few weeks ago. I choked up during Life is Sweet (as I always do). That song really pulls at the heartstrings.

    I've really enjoyed this blog and your thoughts and opinions and your love for Natalie. Thank you, Annie.

    1. Hi David -

      Thanks so much! I haven't gotten to see Natalie on her latest tour, as she has not made it out west yet. I'm glad you got to see her, though. Thanks for your kind words about the blog. It was really my pleasure to write it.

      - Annie

  2. will have to check her out. Love your passionate writing.Thanks for dropping by my blog. regards, Mark.

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