I am constantly rearranging, refocusing, and reiterating my ideas about the Indigo Girls. I’m sticking with “Moment of Forgiveness” as my favorite song, but there are “Get Out the Map” days. Of course, there are also “Hope Alone” and “Ghost” days, but I am just not emo enough to call one of those songs my favorite. That would be like saying High Art is my favorite movie. I don’t need to do anything else to provoke those “what is wrong with you?” looks. Sometimes I can’t explain the way I feel (see the Amy Ray post) or I can’t explain why I feel the way I feel.
The latter situation is where I am right now with Strange Fire. The title track is a conundrum in and of itself. I am beginning to think of it as a metaphor for the entire Indigo Girls experience. Think about how perfectly this idea works. It’s the first song on their first album and Amy is all “I come to you with strange fire/ I make an offering of love.” It’s like she’s introducing and explaining the Indigo Girls. What if “strange fire” is that crazy energy that makes their music so compelling?
Because I am compelled, in case you haven’t noticed.
The thing that really gets me about Strange Fire (besides iTunes categorizing it as “pop”) is that it came out in 1987, when they were younger than I am now. How crazy is that? I am no less than obsessed with “You Left It Up to Me” right now, and I just can’t believe that Amy knew all this by the time she was twenty-three. I’ve already used this blog to advance my theory that this song is about every single breakup that ever occurred, but I just can’t get over how it feels so universal and so personal in the same moment.
In a lot of ways, these Strange Fire songs are more raw and the lyrics are less complicated. Emily, for instance, seems to be more comfortable messing around with language in some of her later songs. That’s not to say that the ones on Strange Fire aren’t exquisitely put together. For whatever reason, Amy is my favorite, but as a songwriter Emily impresses me more. Perhaps it is because I am a writer myself, but the risks she takes with language and the way she works with words quite literally stun me sometimes. I respond to the way she treats language as something malleable, not something fixed and predetermined. In Wonder Boys, there is a scene where Hannah (Katie Holmes) is describing to Grady (Michael Douglas) the affect his writing has on her. She says, “It’s like all your sentences were up in style heaven, just waiting for you to write them.” That is how I feel about Emily’s songs. The words fit together so well, they make so much sense, that it’s easy to imagine that they came to Earth already put together.
Let’s look at “Left Me a Fool,” for instance. The way she describes the tendency to elevate a figure to hero status, how precarious that situation can be, and how false it ultimately is: “Everybody loves a hero, an image to create/ Antithesis of everything, inside themselves they hate/ But you’d better close your eyes, when it’s time for them to die/ ‘Cause you’d hate to think the life we built upon them was a lie.” “Left Me a Fool” sort of reminds me of “Hope Alone” because the language is more simple than it is in say, “Language or the Kiss,” (from Swamp Ophelia) which I love in a nerdy, gives-me-chills kind of way. I mean, “the grammar of my fears” and “the alphabet of feeling”? Those are poetic phrases. Emily is a poet.
Strange Fire is rapidly becoming an album I have to listen to in its entirety. I don’t skip any songs, and I don’t skip around. I let it go from “Strange Fire” to “Land of Canaan” without stopping, and I get kind of irked if someone calls me while I am engaged in this ritual. I didn’t expect to love this album with such intensity because the other albums I love like this are Become You and Despite Our Differences, which are from 2002 and 2006, respectively.
Within the Indigo Girls canon, there are a few lines from a few songs that I use to sum up my Indigo Girls experience, the way that I’ve done here with “Strange Fire.” I think I’ve already alluded to how the “Come on Home” lines “you speak so cryptically/ but that’s not news to me” could be a direct communication from me to them. On Strange Fire, there is a song called “Crazy Game,” and in it Emily sings, “Confusion wants to break me and it tries.” I am often confused, especially initially, when I tackle a new Indigo Girls song. I doubt I will ever reach a satisfying conclusion about “Three Hits,” but I relish the challenge. I don’t think poetry always has to be understood in a linear, explainable way. You’re totally singing “and it’s poetry in motion” now, aren’t you? Yeah, me too…