THANXFDR: St. Vincent
In this heartwarming seasonal series, the Crossfader staff will be running you through some of the media-related things that they’re most thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
This Thanksgiving, I’ll be looking forward less to some home-cooked holiday spirit, and more to a remarkably bittersweet week of moving out of my childhood home. As someone who is especially susceptible to metaphysical dread and sensitive to the passage of time (I schedule a time to cry to Joanna Newsom’s DIVERS once a month), I know I’ll be struggling to reconcile the happiness I feel about being back in my hometown in Idaho and the immeasurable sadness of realizing how little of my adolescence I have left to grasp onto beyond old movie stubs, dusty dance trophies, notes passed in middle school algebra class, and photo strips obsessively collected from our crappy local mall. The house I’ve called home my entire life will soon be exhausted to a shell, and I have to keep reminding myself to take a good look while I can before it’s reduced to blurred outlines and muffled voices stored in my fallible, human brain.
Despite the loyal esteem I hold for my hometown, a childhood there came with the baggage of cultural homogeneity. At lunchtime, I tended to dwell in the computer lab to watch Keyboard Cat and Salad Fingers with my friends. Music videos were only consumed when they played at six AM on MTV before school while I killed time waiting for the bus. When I was in sixth grade, I got my first iPod, upon which I imported various Broadway musical soundtracks, Homestar Runner podcasts, and a cuss-less album by the ska group The Aquabats. I don’t posit this as normal, or normal for Idahoans by any means. But it wasn’t necessarily anything important or against the grain, anything to challenge my comfortably white, Mormon, middle-class sensibilities.
At school in seventh grade, my first gay friend put headphones in my ears and urged, “Listen to this!” What played was an aggressive mess of frenetic electric guitar, piano, synth strings, chimes, and a heavy, driving drum beat behind a voice that was sweet as a church choir but had the attitude of Esther in THE ORPHAN. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my flavor. That is, not until a couple months later when I listened through to the end of the song. Here’s what happens in the finale: The post-apocalyptic smoke clears to reveal a guitar being steadily and gently plucked before bursting into an orgasmic bliss of crashing cymbals and exalted violin. Like a sun radiating on the humbled wreckage, her voice angelically exhales, “Your skin’s so fair / it’s not fair.” It took all of four minutes and 42 seconds to give St. Vincent the chance to grab my hand and pull me through adolescence and into early adulthood.
St. Vincent is my David Bowie. She is constantly mutating, and yet I find new meaning and relevance in her repertoire with every passing year. At 13, “Human Racing” was my carefully calculated MySpace profile song; at 19, it meant being emotionally lost without my first serious boyfriend. At 14, “Just the Same, But Brand New” was for contemplating the stars at night; at 20, it was the realization that you will always be stuck with your ever-changing self. At 16, “Cruel” was a dance-jam for bopping on the way to school; at 21, it’s an anthem that fuels my feminist ideologies. MARRY ME waltzed me through young love, STRANGE MERCY understood me through depression, and ST. VINCENT made sense of my collegiate confusion. All of it sings with me; all of it bleeds with me.
Her music taught me that cruelty can be kind, to hold out hope even for things that are doomed, and to get naked in nature once in awhile (but watch out for rattlesnakes). I tend to associate most music with specific people, places, or times in my life, but St. Vincent’s magically remains unmarred by the inevitable disappointment that bad friends and bad circumstances will contaminate certain songs or albums with. On the contrary, her music is a compassionate bedrock upon which the good waves and the bad waves of life are welcome to crash. And at the same time, that foundation is the thing that teaches me how to cope with whichever value-laden downpour rains on me next.
Beyond the music, Annie Clark is the woman and artist that I strive to emulate. Obsessive analysis of her articles and interviews always leaves me inspired to be more articulate, more focused, and more passionate. Her sense of style is sophisticated, her palate for media is tastefully anomalous, and her philosophies on life and art are lucid and well-informed. I so greatly admire her ability to be sound in her identity and yet particular about her privacy. In loneliness, she is my friend, and in esprit de corps, she is my role model. Seeing her in concert felt like finally meeting the cool godmother I never had.
The author fangirling at her local record store in 2012
The platitude of this entire admission is simply that, during a lifetime of inevitable change and uncertainty, I am grateful to take St. Vincent along for the ride. Her music is a vessel that holds so much of what I can’t take with me from the house I grew up in, and I know that it’s an immortalization I will carry with me no matter where I move to next (if not in my stereo, then by the homage I have tattooed on my arm). Her words will be there to remind me that all my stars will align and that every tear disappears, while the sounds will whisk me into that ecstasy of being swaddled by something that loves you back without question. St. Vincent gives me a home, and for that, I could not be more thankful.