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Quintessential Album Series :: March :: Micheal Penn

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A Little History:

March is the debut album of singer-songwriter Michael Penn, released in 1989.

It featured the singles No Myth, This and That, and Brave New World.

In 1990, No Myth peaked at # 22 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, # 5 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, # 4 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, and # 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

This and That reached # 10 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Brave New World reached # 20 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and # 26 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

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March, particularly the first single, No Myth, brought Penn attention, as well as the 1990 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist. Penn’s follow-up albums Free-for-All (1992), Resigned (1997), MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident (2000), Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 (2005) and Palms and Runes, Tarot and Tea (2007) were never able to match the commercial success of March, although critics continued to praise his song craft.

Michael Penn met fellow singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, and during the recording of her album I’m with Stupid (to which Penn contributed), the two struck up a friendship, which blossomed into romance and their December 29, 1997 marriage. Together with manager Michael Hausman they formed United Musicians, an independent music collective founded on “the principle that every artist should be able to retain copyright ownership of the work he or she has created and that this ownership is the basis for artistic strength and true independence.” Penn and Mann live in Los Angeles.

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What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

Michael Penn was one of the shared musical discoveries and loves that my first husband and I had together. This entire album will forever be tied to images of San Francisco in the early nineties to me, and of two people who were much to young trying to make a go of it as a “family”. The songs play and I close my eyes and see the Golden Gate bridge, the BART train, me trying to parallel park on Haight Street, and my oldest daughter a baby in a stroller as her Father and I walked hand-in-hand around Berkeley.

He was the one to buy the album, a cassette of March at some independent record store around the corner from where we were staying in the city, back when record stores were everywhere, especially in San Francisco. He gave it to me at dinner saying that the song No Myth reminded him of me. This was our second trip to the city together. We would make many more trips in our small time together. During one of those said trips we would marry, a mistake I never quite understood us making.

Maybe it was San Francisco. The city was magic to us then, and we were magical together when we were there. I loved everything about it, the people, the BART, the stores, the bars, the cafes, the coffee, the fog, and how everyone we went there seemed to be associated with music.

Every trip after this one I would would tuck this cassette in with the rest of our musical choices. We had this bright turquoise hard plastic box that held tapes in place, and we would fill it before hitting the road, arming ourselves with an arsenal of mixes and favorite full-albums.

The album went on to be more about the city then who gave it to me, my love of the lyrics and melodies outlasting the love we had for each other. I wonder if No Myth still reminds him of me, or if he realizes that we never did dance together, and how that fact is kind of ironic if you think about it/listen to the lyrics.

In many ways, I suppose the endeavor of us was a failure of he and I, but hey, we did make a family, one that went on long after I said it was time to go, as did my love of this album.

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My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Innocent One

When the bow broke in pieces we fell,
we would scream and shout,
almost anything,
but the point is we fell dear
.”

In some ways this song was a prelude to our collapse, a musical red flag warning, a foreboding of what was to come. We bit and scratched and clawed and spit at each other, in words and silences and battles that went on through the night, because I think we knew it was ending but we weren’t quite ready to give in. This is still one of the saddest songs I know, to me.

2. No Myth

Maybe she’s just looking for someone to dance with.”

It really was that simple, but no one ever sees me that way it seems. I wanted someone who understood me, who would dance with me barefoot in the kitchen in the middle of the night, and drop everything to try somewhere new to live in the world, and who would still want to kiss me passionately when I walked into the door each night. I didn’t want complications, other lovers in our bed, nor metaphoric poetic art with me somewhere buried inside, no, I just wanted who would stand next to me and love me back.

3. Brave New World

You looked so pretty on the freeway,
let’s drive into the brave new world
.”

Driving early in the morning up the Coast to get to the city before night fall, and you slid this cassette into the car stereo. I had black Ray Bans on and my hair tied up in a mess, the windows rolled down, red lipstick the only make-up I bothered with, and you kept singing this line to me, over and over again. At the time I believed it, I felt it, I felt you.

4. This & That

“I‘ll do this,
and I’ll do that,
I’ll be burning canyons for you.
I’ll do this,
and I’ll do that,
and I will wait forever if you’ll be there
.”

For a moment we both believed that. We did that, we burned up stars for each other with our hearts and minds and bodies, and we believed. Neither of us could hold on though, neither of us were there for a forever.

5. Cupid’s Got a Brand New Gun

That’s when you realize,
you’ve been shot down,
wounded unto death by something called love.”

You left a note by the door with a key, asking me to leave the ring, asking me to leave. But, I had asked the same of you, sans the ring, three weeks before. We were shooting blanks, fists in the air hitting nothing but the space between us, between all the damage done.

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