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Jenny Lewis and I are in her brown Volvo, idling outside her childhood home. Lewis left the Valley alone when she was 16 and vowed to never go back. But on the occasion of her fourth solo record, On the LineI asked for a tour of her past life, and here we are—Lewis in a royal blue jumpsuit, with electric blue sneakers and eyeliner to match; me, staring up at the rainbow of buttons fastened to the sun visor of her passenger seat, a collage that includes Bob Dylan, a peaceand a hot-orange sad face.
||I'm 39 years old
|Color of my eyes: ||Cold blue|
|My sex: ||Girl|
|I understand: ||Italian|
|My piercing: ||None|
The dress here is slightly rumpled, fitting the way such a dress fits on a real human body, its close-to-the-skin sexiness making small flaws more visible. I have never managed to see Jenny Lewis live, and I have barely ever listened to her music other than in headphones. Hot Sad Girl Artists are always working with the subject of exteriors and interiors, the private and public, the revealed and the kept-away. This why performative conventional beauty has to be part of the persona, part of the story.
A beautiful woman singing about ugly things. Someone you want to bang singing about the very worst of that desire. The talking le to touching, and the touching le to sex, and then there is no mystery left is a line that makes me blush whenever I hear it not because it mentions sex but because it is so astonishingly artless, the opposite of how we expect beautiful women, women who fuck, to have learned to talk about these things. The clumsiness is what jostles the listener to attention, what brings us up short on hearing.
Lewis may have been visibly twee in the early days but her music dug down to a different story. The new album cover looks the way she has always sounded, a heart-broken glamour girl putting on a show because what else is there to do. Certainly she turns up around every corner in Homer and in the Greek myths, and she swaggers and melts - hot, sad, defiant, defiantly hot about her sadness - all way down any old-textbook classics course on Western Literature and culture.
The hot sad online girl is beautiful in an aggressive way, horny in a way that acknowledges desire as a farce and a tragedy. On the one hand, this is a thrilling gesture toward her own importance - look who wants to be my band. But the fact that it is specifically famous men feels deliberate, part of the performance.
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The way we survive things is at once glamorous and horrifying. The glamour is the horror, the vulnerability is the armor. The story was always look what I chose to get myself into as much as anything. ability is itself a triumph -- I made this trap for myself and here I am, standing up, singing about it. The torch singer is a glamour girl who has been done wrong, the beautiful woman to whom life has not been beautiful.
Yet it was men who caused the pain, and if they stopped causing it they would not have her to dig.
In a way, their adulation was the cruelest insult of all. Willis summarizes here the whole thing of the Sad Hot Girl Singer, and arguably the larger thing of the sad horny girl online. This paradox, this return to the source of pain, is the material from which these artists make their work. So she hurt herself in front of them, and they loved it.
Self-awareness can easily become just another kind of self-harm, a sharp thing on which to repeatedly wound oneself. She made what had always been the subtext of these kinds of songs the text. She said the quiet part loud.
Straightforwardly, it is a song about depression. Lewis sings, in a sweet, baby-ish sing-song, about waking up but being unable to get out of bed, crushed by an unnamed weight until she cant breathe. Her mother calls and she is cruel to her mother on the phone and then feels bad about it, and goes back to bed, imagining a better time. These uncomfortable jokes let the air into the room, and at best act as encouragement for individuals to seek out support.
In later albums, when she sang in more mainstream and less raw ways, the subtext of the real, ugly daily logistics of mental health had been set firmly in place by those early works, and gave further dimension to the slinking jams on Under the Blacklight and The Voyager. Sad things are just sad rather than sexy, and our choices are more likely to be who we are rather than merely what we did. A lot of my friends myself included have given up drinking recently.
Everybody is going to bed earlier, speaking in quieter tones, turning away from our own psychodramas. And neither have any of the rest of us, following her music and her hard-rocking pain from album to album across the beginning of this nascent century. Griefbacon Subscribe.
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