Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily (1995)
Natalie Merchant came into my ears, and my life-soundtrack, through her band 10,000 Maniacs. I discovered In My Tribe the year it came out, the year I graduated high school, 1987. I was a fan from the start, going to see the band play anytime they were in Los Angeles, usually with one of my closest friends who was also a Maniacs/Merchant fan.
When Tigerlily came out, in 1995, I devoured it from the first track to last. It became one of my all-time favorite albums pretty much from my first listen. The album captures a time in my life – my twenties in the 90s – but it also transcends that time – remaining a relatable and emotionally relevant to my life now, and through all the years that have come in-between. The songs also bring to life the Los Angeles I’ve had a love/hate relationship with all of my life, leaving and coming back over and over; the city I’ve broken up and reconciled with more times than I can count. I can hear and feel both sides of the city in these songs, the good and the bad,
My favorite track on the album is the first track, San Andreas Fault, which definitely sings of the dark and the light of the so-called city of angels.
“San Andreas Fault” by Natalie Merchant
“Oh promised land,
oh, wicked ground,
build a dream,
tear it down.
Oh promised land,
what a wicked ground,
build a dream,
watch it all fall down.”
There are two songs on the album that ALWAYS make me cry. As time unfolds the impact on these songs never fades. Sometimes I think the emotional punch they deliver gets stronger as if the tracks are lifting weights and carb-loading between listens. “Beloved Wife” reminds me of my grandparents, and what the loss of them from my life meant to me. How I’m never really over their absence. I know the song is about losing a wife of many decades, it still hits those sore spots in me. It also triggers memories of my own spouse whose death still lingers inside of me. We may not have gotten 50 years together, but there was so much living we did in the years we had – two children, three cross-country moves, and all the big and little things that make up a marriage.
Check out this stunning live version:
“Beloved Wife” (live) by Natalie Merchant
The other song is “River”. I still remember the night River Phoenix died. Halloween. I’d just gotten back from taking my two-year-old daughter trick-or-treating. I’d put her to bed – story and water first – and sat down to watch a movie. It was late, but I wasn’t tired and had a closing shift the next day – so no need to get up early. The news came on while I was looking for a VHS tape I wanted. River Phoenix dead. In front of the Viper Room. I couldn’t believe it. None of the people I knew could. We had this unrealistic idea of who he was, not realizing that there is so much we don’t know about anyone really. One of my best friend’s called me from New York, where she’d just relocated to. She was crying. Hard. He’d been her favorite actor. He was one of mine, too. It felt like we lost one of ours. We’d lose another of ours the next year.
“River” by Natalie Merchant
“With candles with flowers.
He was one of ours.
One of ours.”
This song hurts more now to listen to. More now because I’ve lost people to drugs. Heroin specifically. My late husband mentioned above was one of those losses. It hurts because he would be just a year younger than me now if he’d lived. What would that life have been? What would so many people’s lives have been that ended that way?
One of my favorite songs (second to “San Andreas Fault”, or maybe tied with it) is “Cowboy Romance”. I’ve always loved a song that tells a tale, a song that feels like a short film or short story. Looking over a list of my all-time favorite songs, most of them are storytelling songs.
I love the couple in this song. I can see them. Feel them. I almost feel like I know them. I’d like to write my own story about them. Maybe someday I will.
“Cowboy Romance” (Documentary footage from the Tigerlily sessions) by Natalie Merchant
“It’s a Saturday afternoon romance,
between a cowboy and a fool.”
What is your favorite track off of Tigerlily? Do you have any special connections or memories associated with the album? I’d love to hear them.