A Song That Describes YouPosted: May 26, 2011
Here we are halfway through the 30 Day Song Challenge and here is the first mention of Ms. Difranco. This song, “In the Margins” from her 1996 album “Reprieve,” was mostly recorded in New Orleans before being interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. As the story goes, she had to abandon her masters, return to the devastated city to get them, then finish the recording in Buffalo, with little acoustic equipment and relying on synthesizers, tape manipulation and other electronic means–like, a vintage omnichord. The result is a record that doesn’t sound like her at all. At least, it sounds like her if you, say, dislike her. But if you are a disciple, and I am, it’s her best record in a few years.
I have 22GB of Ani’s music on my laptop. Most of it is bootleg recordings, from every year since 1991. In general, I have usually listened to all her new songs about 100 times before they appear on studio recordings–Ani always plays her new stuff in concert months and months in advance. (In fact, she’s usually one album ahead in concert.)
She’s only played the song about 13 times between 2004 and 2006, according to OnHerOwn.net, the definitive source for Ani’s setlist/bootleg info. I never got to hear it live. So, I’d been listening to “In the Margins” for a few weeks, on the bootlegs from Morgantown, or Austin, or Edinburgh, just her tenor guitar and Todd Sickafoose on bass, and then “Reprieve” is accidentally leaked on iTunes because of a typo–the year of release was listed as 2002, and thus the store made it available–and suddenly there were all these sounds I’d never heard before.
The song intros with a beautiful little piano line and what sounds like an electronic tuba, before the twangy guitar line begins. Then this gorgeous soaring soprano sound, waving back and forth between two notes, and then she starts singing. At 1:27, when the plinky melody arrives, then the chorus, which, in the song goes more like a refrain, sounds like this:
Sometimes I see myself
Through the eyes of a stray dog
From an alley across the street
And my whole mission just seems so finite
My whole saga just seems so cheap
Then the next verse is, okay, dramatic, but true:
I mean I know that now is all there is
And love’ll just makes you cry
So I live for the sight of a rare bird
Suddenly flying by
But, later, she rescues herself from the misery in the last verse, as she has always been known to do, and as I have been known to do.
And that’s when your song calls to me
From way up in a tree
And I look up
And the whole world
Is as it should be
This song doesn’t so much describe me as resonate with the idea of the person that I’d like to be. The person that speeds back through the flood-stricken city to rescue the left-behind masters, who rescues the half-done album by laying down melodies played on a vintage omnichord. The person who knows that now is all there is.
This is not an official video, but I want you to hear the studio version: