Wednesday, January 30, 2019

An Odd, Obscure Singer I Liked 15-20 Years Ago is Now a Pop Star.

I don't follow pop music. I have no idea whatsoever who is making hits today. I generally don't care much for today's pop. It's probably a function of age, right? I just learned that an obscure singer-songwriter I really liked 15-20 years ago is now a mega pop star. Who knew?

I do like some singer-songwriters who do things that are different, either musically or lyrically or in the way they use their instruments and/or voice. If you know the music of Toni Childs think of the odd, affected style of singing which worked so well on the album Union (1988) and briefly made her a star.

Another singer like that, though with a very different quality to her voice, is Sia Furler. Pardon me, she's now just known as Sia and she tops charts regularly. Meh. What she does now is boring pop. Oh, I'd heard her #1 song "Cheap Thrills". I just didn't associate it with the artist or the music I knew. She has an interesting shtick these days, not showing her face to her audience. OK, whatever.

Once upon at time Sia used to write hits for other people. In 2004 her own songs were sad, slow ballads for the most part that exposed raw feelings. They often had cryptic lyrics and she often did odd things with her voice, whispering or letting it break or mumbling. Those things fit the songs but sometimes made it hard to follow the lyrics. Some of those lyrics, once I did know them, could make me cry they were so sad. It's what she did.

Back then Sia had a little success in her native Australia. Here? Not so much. Nothing she did ever landed on any chart. She had a cult following who liked an odd singer who did strange things with her voice. She had some brilliant albums: one was called Healing is Difficult back in 2001. Another was Colour the Small One, my favorite from 2004. Her live disc was Lady Croissant (2007). To most people those names mean nothing. She was talented and creative and interesting but hopelessly obscure. For me that's where it ended. I may have heard Some People Have Real Problems (2008) where she began her transition to upbeat pop. Yeah, meh. I lost interest.

Since I'm oblivious to most of pop culture I had no idea that Sia had a number one album in 2014. I had no idea that her commercial breakthrough was another song where she dealt with her own demons. If I heard "Chandelier" or anything else from the album it didn't register in my consciousness in any way. The other day when a friend mentioned 1000 Forms of Fear to me I had no idea who or what she was talking about. She shared two songs. One was a live performance of "Breathe Me" from Colour the Small One and suddenly the light went on. Yes, I knew the artist. Yes, I really liked Sia once upon a time. That one live version of the once obscure song has 41 million views on YouTube. 41 million? When did that happen? The other song was "Chandelier". I don't honestly know if I ever heard it before but, yes, I like it. I'm glad all those angst and pain filled songs finally paid off for her. "Chandelier" also touched a very raw nerve in me, one that hadn't been disturbed in a very long time.

Today I listened to Sia's 2016 concert in Tel Aviv. She still has a great voice. I'm still not into today's pop. Those old songs, though... First, read the lyrics to "Breathe Me" if you don't know it:
I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there's no one else to blame

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Enfold me, I am small
And needy, warm me up
And breathe me

Ouch, I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found
Yeah, I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe

Here are two versions, that viral live version from 2014 and the original video from 2004 so you can hear how she sang it originally.
Since everybody in the world except me knows "Chandelier" I picked the first version I found that had that expressiveness, that ability to make you feel her pain that permeated her early albums. This song would have fit just fine on an album from 2004. I also, unfortunately, can relate to going through a trauma and trying to lose oneself. She had her battles with alcoholism and drug addiction after losing someone she loved.
A very few people know what happened to me roughly 30 years ago and my own battles. I think that's why I'm glad I finally heard this song and why it touched me. Oh, and Dave S, if by some miracle you run into this blog post I have two things I should have said then. The first is simply "thank you". Man, you saved my life not once but twice. The second thing is "I'm sorry". I was a total asshole to you then. I didn't appreciate what you did. I wanted to die and you wouldn't let me. You were a much better friend than I deserved.

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