in the elite 8
(5) Joan osborne, "one of us"
(11) 4 non blondes, "what's up?"
and punches its ticket to the final four
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 24th.
(partial) analysis by jacob slichter
You may know Jacob Slichter by the band he was (is, actually: they're playing new shows in Minneapolis this summer!) one-third of, Semisonic, who was represented in this tournament by the song "Closing Time," which lost in the second round to Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack."
Slichter, the drummer for Semisonic, wrote an excellent and acclaimed book called So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life, in part about his own (and Semisonic's) arc through the music industry. It's a remarkable read, though, not just for Semisonic or "Closing Time" fans, but for its attention to the minutiae of the way that the record industry operated around the close of the millennium. (tl;dr: it's insane) He detailing the weird incentives and contracts, the boring stuff that works against artists, and the often perverse ways in which songs are selected as singles, are promoted well (or poorly or not at all), find their way to radio (or not), and how a chance encounter with the right person's backing at the right time can kickstart or extinguish a band's career. It's fascinating (if not surprising) to read about the ways in which most of the industry was (and probably still is), frankly, though he doesn't say this explicitly, pretty much a racket. Slichter is now a professor of creative nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence (you can read some of this thinking about lessons from songwriting and musical practice for writing [here], and he agreed to sit down with me for a conversation about the book, the band, his writing, and to weigh in on a few of the tournament matchups. We'll post the full transcript of the conversation a little later on, but because of the speed of the tournament this month, we weren't able to get his thoughts on some of the Sweet 16 matchups into the games in time. However, one of the songs we talked about was Joan Osborne's "One of Us," which was then up against "Wicked Game" in the Sweet 16, so that was the matchup we talked about. Though that game's since been played (with Osborne victorious, as Slichter predicts), we thought we would include his thoughts on the song here. (We didn't get to ask him about "What's Up?" You'll have to determine for yourself how much it moves you, as you, we are sure, will anyhow.) —The March Fadness Selection Committee
Oh, I’m going with "One of Us." It’s got some terrible rhymes in it but I feel—this is just an aesthetic thing for me—the Isaak thing is very coiffed, figuratively and literally, and Joan Osborne just ripped it right open with that song. I don’t think she even wrote it. It’s the Hooters guy who wrote that and a bunch of other songs. I love it. I really love that song. I watched a lot of teenagers sing along with it in a sentimental way and yet I don’t feel like the song is actually sentimental. It takes a very ambitious stance. It’s almost clunkily theological. I’m actually interested in theology, and most of the time when theology shows up in music it is clunky except in weird cases, like "Sweetheart Like You" by Bob Dylan, which I’m convinced that no one else but me hears as theological, but I hear it as super theological. But "One of Us," in spite of its clunkiness, it’s too awesome to deny. It’s like Chicago, "Questions 67 and 68" by Chicago. You’re embarrassed by the lyrics, and yet it pulls something out of me that—you know—is just too… it’s more important that that thing gets pulled out of me than the fact that I’m embarrassed that it happens. Every time I hear just that opening guitar riff, I’m like holy fuck, here it goes again. —Jacob Slichter
HANNAH ENSOR ON "ONE OF US"
I sometimes fantasize about being a touring drummer for a 90s singer-songwriter. She’s someone I admire, but not someone I idolize so much that we couldn’t hang out. I might have a little crush on her: just enough to smooth out our socializing, to give us reason to chat. If you’re listening to “One of Us,” as I hope you are while reading this, listen to just the drumming for a second. Do you hear how easy and fun that would be? You could do, like, anything, and not have to be very good at all. Every four bars or so you would just move your hands over to some other part of the drum set but keep all your hands and feet essentially doing the same thing with slight variations. At some point—say, while the guitar solos—you could do the thing that for most of the song you were doing on the slightly-parted hi-hats but do it over close to the dome of the ride cymbal. For dramatic effect, later, you might stop playing anything but a cymbal and the snare drum. She might make you harmonize into a microphone even though you’re not a singer, which works because the song’s premise is imagining what it’d be like if God was just good, not great, so you don’t have to be particularly sonorous. Just on-key and a normal level of talented. And, when you’re not ping-ping-pinging on the ride cymbal, when the crowd’s not calling out someone’s name that isn’t your name, watching every move of a hero who’s not you, you could spend the day, all day every day, until doors at 7:00 or so, reading books and writing poems.
This is the kind of dreaming I do when I’m not fixated on the idea of Donald Trump killing us all, of me finding out about it at 11 PM on a Monday night. I’ve been staying pretty close to my phone, waiting for the thing I’ve known was going to happen my whole life.
Time was once that people thought “One of Us” was disrespectful because Joan Osborne offered a possibility that God was “just a slob like one of us.” A certain subset of people went on television, furious. What is it with contemporary Christianity and loathing? It’s pretty fucking capitalist, to be against the slob. Always a looking down. WWJD? Does anyone self-identify as a slob? One thing is certain and that’s that “slob” is a word that has to do with productivity. There’s a way of looking at it that says that God in all these stories is productive, but from my non-scholarly seat I’d say that’s really just at the start of each of the books. There’s the part where He makes everything, and there’s the part where He sends His Son. What else does God do, though? Was it “productive” to flood the earth? God gave the instructions for building the ark, but His main role in that story was the part where He brought the water. God did not create jobs. God did not build a WalMart. Was God a slob? Some people have suggested that Trump spent his first few days writing executive orders just to get the presidency out of the way. On the first day, he… On the second day…
On a lark, I google “productivity slob late capitalism” and find my way to an article about how Trump won the presidency through the power of entertainment and gestural comedy. It points to a moment in the campaign when Trump, at a rally, teased John Kasich for eating quickly—in Trump’s caricature, Kasich shoves pancakes into his mouth in front of the press. The article posits,
In this dramatization of Kasich’s table manners, we are again confronted by a display of discomfort with non-normative bodies. It is well known that Trump avoided the fray of vernacular embodiment on the campaign trail by rarely eating with locals, even though this activity is expected of presidential candidates. In fact, Trump is famous for eating even fast food with a knife and a fork. Anthropologists familiar with the work of Norbert Elias (1982) and Pierre Bourdieu (1982) on the importance of table manners to class distinction would recognize Trump’s enactment as a veiled class assault: Kasich is a slob, a low life, a “subhuman” who would have difficulty being presidential. Trump, in contrast, is a man who teaches his children to exhibit good manners and eat politely in “small bites.”
When I listen to Joan Osborne’s “One of Us,” I get very emotional. Or, to get the rhythm of it more right, I listen to the song a few times on repeat with some quick returns to “St. Teresa,” I’ll be feeling really good, loving her, rocking out (I’m usually in my car), and then with seemingly no pattern or reason, I’ll be hit with it. It’ll creep up my chest and I’ll get it right behind the eyes. Yeah. Yeah.
I have been finding religion through these times. I’ve been praying, actually praying. I started right before the election. It didn’t do any good. A poet I know recently told me that my generation is too fixated on results. She said we need to protest, show up, talk to our representatives, not because it’ll work (she says it won’t), but because we need to live ethical lives. She’s right. She told me she would write me a letter about it and title it “Dear H.”
Dear God, why aren’t You helping? Are You helping? Is this You helping, all of us out in the streets? Cancelling our Uber accounts and instead taking a cab to go see our representatives? Did You help through the judge ordering a stay on Trump’s Muslim Ban? Is it You that moved that veteran, the one with four purple hearts, to drive four hours with his young son to be at the Dulles airport to protest? Did You at least see it, when he pinned one of his purple hearts to the shirt of an Iraqi husband, reunited with his wife after the stay was granted? Did You see me crying on my bed?
Should I mention here that I’m a Jew? Is that of any concrete use to this inquiry? Jews like to close read. Jews don’t totally get what’s going on with all this New Testament stuff. I’m a Jew who still doesn’t understand why some books got to be gospels and others didn’t. The Jews’ God, I have to say, is much closer to a slob than Jesus is. Jesus loved slobs, but He wasn’t one. He was, of course, “One of Us,” in a much more structural way than the Torah’s God. But the God of our Book is awesome (in new and old uses of the word) very much because he’s sloppy, sometimes (or even pretty often) wrong, impetuous, gets pissed, destroys everything, tells fathers to carry their sons up mountains to kill them only to pull back at the last minute for some unknown but presumably moral rationale that we’re still wrestling with, arguing over, shrugging and saying we’ll never understand. He puts His people in bad positions, hard ones. Maybe the thing is: He sets up all these scenarios in which people might become slobs, but they have to be something with more fortitude, for better or for worse. A lot of times it’s not for better. It reminds me a little of what my great-grandmother told my great aunt and my grandmother: You have to behave yourselves because someday the world will be the world again. My family, other people’s families, families in Poland and in Rwanda and in the U.S./the Americas before there were geopolitical lines cutting it all up (and in the U.S./the Americas through and after the geopolitical lines) and in the Torah: at no point have we been just allowed to chill, peacefully, by the banks of a river carving slowly through the desert. We haven’t been allowed to be slobs, but it’s not because slobs are bad, at least I don’t think that’s why not.
I think about Jesus a lot these days, and I think I like him. My great aunt collected Catholic icons and put them on the walls of her house. It seemed at many moments of my life an odd choice for someone who had survived the Shoah despite other humans’ best attempts, but at this moment I’m gaining a little access into it all. It’s not a Christian thing, and it’s definitely not a “Jews for Jesus” thing. Not for me, anyway. I can’t speak for her, not at all.
My God is not better than yours. I don’t know anything about yours, or honestly anything about mine. I know that as a kid I loved Sister Act, and when I re-watched it recently I wept through the whole movie. I know that I have a “Magic Created The World, Only Magic Can Heal It” bumper sticker on my wall. I know nothing about Joan Osborne’s relationship to her own spirituality. I know that mine changes probably daily. It’s growing fast these days in messy outward motions – horizontal and spin-wise, not vertical. Not necessarily toward any particular texts or traditions. I’ve always liked community. I feel deep allegiance to my family. I know there are a couple of sticky subjects that get hard to talk about, or to think about; I think we’re all moral relativists, trying to make our way home. When I imagine turning my head upwards and praying to an individual, I think of that scene in The Lion King when Simba sees his father in the night sky. I’ve been getting acupuncture a lot recently, and a friend cleansed my chakras. I watch Lady Ghostbusters regularly and believe it’s a parable for modern times. It is the 21st century and for reasons inextricable from my relationship to the patriarchy and a queer lineage I still pop Relish into my car CD player every few months or so and sing along full-throatedly as I glide down the streets of Tucson. I believe in epigenetics, and that I have a fight inscribed in my genes. I’d spent all this time assuming it was weakness—and now I know it’s a super power.
I think I would be okay with this being the song I listen to while I die.
The album version of “One of Us” starts with an old lady. Or, rather, with an old recording—made on October 27, 1937 by American folklorists Alan & Elizabeth Lomax for the Archive of American Folk Song—of an old lady—Mrs. Nell Hampton—singing an old song—a hymn written in 1928. To honor the great folklorist and believer, hypothesizer, wonderer, Joan Osborne, and for all the ladies who are both one of us and more, I’ll end the same place she starts:
So one of these nights and about twelve o'clock
This old world's going to reel and rock
Saints will tremble and cry for pain
For the Lord's gonna come in his heavenly airplane
Hannah Ensor is from Michigan and received her MFA in poetry at the University of Arizona. She coordinates the Reading & Lecture Series and the Summer Residency Program at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, and is also a co-editor of textsound.org, a contributing poetry editor for DIAGRAM, and has served as president of the board of directors of Casa Libre en la Solana, a literary arts nonprofit in Tucson, Arizona. Her first book is forthcoming from Noemi Press.
PECULIAR: DANIELLE CADENA DEULEN ON "WHAT'S UP?"
Three years after “What’s Up?” made 4 Non Blondes famous, their dreadlocked, big-boot wearing, nose-ringed frontwoman, Linda Perry quit the band and has been tepidly reviled ever since. The way she’s written about, one might think she kicked open the back door of the 90s and disappeared into the California heat. In a 2003 Rolling Stone article by Barry Walters on how “Pink is more Punk than what passes for punk these days” part of the evidence he gives for Pink’s apparent disregard for conformity is that, after turning away from the R&B world, she went “rock & roll” with “Linda Perry, a lesbian rocker dismissed as a has-been when her group 4 Non Blondes split.” 
Walters’s blithe mention of Perry’s eviction from music in that bitchy “everyone knows” tone, along with his regard for Pink’s apparently brave move to work with such a pariah makes me think Perry’s summative ousting wasn’t just about 4 Non Blondes splitting up so soon after their first hit. What, exactly, makes her a has-been? Is she a has-been for getting off the fame train? Is she a has-been because her songs went stale? Is she a has-been because she’s a lesbian? That was so 90s. Is she a has-been merely for her age? When that article was published she was 38—the age I am now as I write this.
In the summer of 1993 when “What’s Up?” soared to number 14 on the U.S. Billboard charts, I was filled with big desires, big questions and the song seemed to reflect my own longing and questioning back at me. They were questions that I had time to think about because I didn’t have a career, children, a mortgage, etc.—essentialist questions which I now consider too grand to be of any pragmatic use, and also which I begrudge my younger self for having the time to ask. There’s almost nothing about being young that I miss except having time—having so much time I could waste it.
I used to really love wasting time. I was quite excellent at it. At thirteen, I could spend whole summer days sitting cross-legged on a warm front porch with my friend, Monica, listening to the top 20 countdown on the radio, eating fruit we stole out of our neighbors’ yards, singing along, or making up clumsy dance routines, or reading our astrology, or just staring at the grass growing in her yard. Monica was pale and skinny with reddish hair and freckles. We’d been friends since fourth grade and it seemed like as long as I’d known her she was always in the middle of reading a book. Whenever she arrived at a startling passage she would gasp audibly and look up at me with her hand over her mouth and her bright, impossibly large eyes utterly open. A perfect image of surprise.
Sometimes when the sun burns through the afternoon rainclouds, I feel a nebulous longing. I don’t exactly know why. The sky’s blue widens and I can feel myself click open, or unravel, or let my grip slip from the mental wire I’ve been hanging from. It’s a pleasurable kind of confusion, to be whelmed by want and impulse in a way I so rarely do now—a sensation I associate almost entirely with adolescence, when it didn’t seem pleasurable to me at all.
I felt harrowed by my own desires then, mostly because I couldn’t describe them. I don’t mean that my longings were vague—my fantasy life was vivid, specific—but what I wanted didn’t align with prevailing narratives. In retrospect, a lot set me apart from other kids: my poverty, my bi-ethnic family, and my bisexuality, which, for all my efforts to keep secret, always seemed to surface in large-scale humiliation, often led by the girl with whom I’d had the affair. But the most egregious weirdness of my life has always been the traumas that marked me at an early age, which most people can’t relate to and don’t want to hear about. This essay isn’t about that, so I won’t go into it here except to say that it split my consciousness. There was my real life, of which I wasn’t allowed to speak, then there were the stories people told that erased my reality, which I was required to echo. To live with a trauma you can’t express is profoundly lonely. To ease that loneliness, to be accepted, I had to pretend that my life wasn’t my life—that I was a normal person. All these years later I still feel like I’m pretending. I do this mostly by not saying what I’m actually thinking, which means always holding two conversations in my head: the one I’m allowed to say and the one I’m not. Which is exhausting. Being normal is exhausting.
To call something a fad is always an insult. It’s also a symbol of the conventional values of a particular era. It can’t transcend its particularity, so lacks the qualities of “great art,” which is supposed to be, somehow, universal—according to prevailing wisdom. Never mind that universality is usually exclusion in disguise. For example, “[q]ueer art has been so often denigrated, suppressed, robbed of its specificity and roots in effort to render it “universal,” that it has very infrequently been seen whole and in the contexts that gave it life.”  Worse, a fad is also not timeless: Although a fad may have been given exaggerated importance, fawned upon in a zealotous craze, it is ultimately a vacuous object—something, as it turns out, after the distance of time and experience (that has led us to more nuanced, refined tastes), was really nothing important at all, nothing good, nothing of real value. So by the mere fact of my agreeing to write for this tourney, I’m agreeing to write about the fadness of “What’s Up?” In other words, I’m feeling the pressure to trash the song.
But I don’t want to.
The truth is, I kind of love it. I’m not claiming that “What’s Up?” is deeply original, but I think its distillation of the general mood of the time is kind of brilliant. By “mood of the time” I mean a woozy mix of excitement, anxiety, play and general pissed-off-ness about gender inequality and heteronormativity—the early 90s, when it felt like feminist and queer consciousness was just waking up in mainstream American media. 4 Non Blondes was one of the first in a parade of what my then friends sometimes lovingly and sometimes derogatorily called “vag-rock” bands—all those musicians unknowingly marching toward the first Lilith Fair in 1997. All, that is, except 4 Non Blondes, who had broken up by then.
At the beginning of that summer, Monica and I had a group of friends. We’d bonded in middle school, mostly through note passing, sharing diaries, and what felt like meaningful conversations on street corners at night under large trees, to keep out of the rain. Having a whole group of friends felt like a real step forward. I’d always had one or two close friends, but for the most part groups of people turned me away. Sometimes my strangeness would invite only a small snub—a casual pretending not to have heard me—and sometimes it invited outright violence. I understood, if only unconsciously then, that to be outside of a group was dangerous, yet I couldn’t seem to fit in with groups of girls my age until I found a way to make my weirdness make sense: I became a mystic. Other children always accused me of being a witch anyway, so it didn’t take much to convince them that I was, in fact, a little witchy. I started reading books on séances, doing astrological charts, interpreting dreams and was always happily surprised at how forthcoming everyone was about themselves. All I really had to do was listen and reflect their own story back to them and people wanted me around. Like magic.
Since Monica’s parents worked all day, we spent our time at her house, without adult supervision. Whenever “What’s Up?” came on over the radio we would jump up into an A stance, legs apart and hands on our hips, then strut around the porch belting out the lyrics, sometimes pumping a fist in the air for added emphasis on certain words. Because Monica’s front porch was high up from the street (a retaining wall holding in her sloped yard), it made a perfect stage. We’d try to out-roar one another, reaching cartoonish fervor in our performances, then fall into a heap of laughter on her porch. It’s a cliché, of course—a scene straight out of a 90’s movie to demonstrate group bonding, which is probably why we thought to do it in the first place. Since friendships with groups was always tenuous for me—at any moment I might accidentally say what I thought—it was the first time of my life that I felt normal. I didn’t mind that I was a novelty, or that my interior life remained secret, because for a moment I didn’t feel lonely. Besides, it was fun. It was fun playing the role of high priestess and it was fun singing that song.
There’s something about the song’s simple melody that turns the voice into a blunt object. Plus Perry’s original vocal interpretation invites other performers to exhibit heartfelt-ness and general loudness in place of actual skill. I’m not saying Perry can’t hold a tune, I’m simply remarking on why the song might have reached such high popularity then, and why it still enjoys an afterlife in karaoke. It’s simple and zealous in a way that appeals to general audiences and especially young people. It’s also accessible, falling in line with the popularity of all songs that predominantly feature earnest vocalization in place of actual lyrics. I mean, the chorus is basically “Hey-yay-yay-yeah-yeah” and the bridge is mostly “Oooo, Oooo, Oooo.”
But there’s something else at work here. In hindsight, the song strikes me not so much as a fad but a cultural artifact formed by the convergence of mainstream music with queer and feminist angst. The co-opting of supposedly subversive culture for profit was nothing new, but it seems around that time there was a special fever for strong female vocalists, and an opportunity for companies to profit from largely unexamined discontentment—at least unexamined in pop culture. However much I revile the amoral motives of Capitalism, I do think in this case, it might have helped to normalize what would have otherwise stayed in the realm of the strange in public imagination.
Everyone knows Perry is a has-been because she is supposedly “outmoded or no longer of any significance.” This definition makes sense to me with regard to things. The pager, for example, is outmoded, falling into “has-been” status around 1998 because the cell phone became affordable. But applying the definition to a person, who is dynamic and adaptable, causes me great confusion. I mean, I get that a person may no longer be “significant”—what I don’t understand is that it is an insult. Doesn’t it also suggest that the person was once highly significant—and how many people actually reach that status? As a highly un-famous person, whose face will likely never bother the cover of a magazine, I think I’d feel surprised and proud to have anyone call me a has-been. The insult here is simply that fame didn’t “stick.”
Such an idea presupposes fame as a static state, transcending time, regardless of cultural currents—a bizarre notion, since culture bestows fame, and culture changes rapidly, especially in America. In enough time, most of the now famous people will be forgotten. But perhaps you think I’m being too obtuse—perhaps fame is just supposed to stay with someone for a generation. If that’s the case, I’d argue that Linda Perry isn’t a has-been at all. Beyond all of the hit songs she’s written for the current generation of divas (Pink, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani), being famous at one point of your life actually means that you’re famous all of your life. That is, you’ve become part of the popular imagination of a generation, and even though you may age, or change careers, or even trash your former self, the figure of your fame will not leave the generational zeitgeist. Even child stars, whose aim for fame is only questionably their own, and whose cute faces we no longer want to consume because they’ve grown into adulthood, we still inquire after with articles titled “Where they are now?” Because people want to know. Because they haven’t been forgotten. Because they are still relevant enough to sell magazines.
You already know that my group of friends don’t stay together. There are narrative signals I’ve given about our eminent break-up: it’s summer (season of brief happiness), we’re between middle school and high school (educational transition), I call it “the group” (instead of naming names), and the whole thing has a past tense aura to it. So let me fast forward to the end: another girl came between us. Her name was Heather. She wore a cruel smile and a blond pony-tail pulled tight at the top her head. She offered the group material novelties such as cigarettes, alcohol, expensive clothes, and mean, thuggish white boys with bad skin, all of which the group scammed, stole or played dumb in order to obtain. I was aghast by their cliché longings and protested, at first, by simply not joining in, but soon found myself trying to appeal to their better judgment—my protestations met with silence. Then Monica stopped calling to invite me to the porch.
I spent a week or two or three sitting on my porch alone listening to the radio. I don’t know how long it was because loneliness stretches time. “What’s up?” came on a lot, of course—it was in that summer’s “hot twenty countdown” rotation and I spent a lot of time thinking about the non-blondes, and especially Linda Perry, who was famously “out.” I wondered if she was happy. After days, weeks, or months of silence, Monica walked up the steps of my porch, and invited me over. I was so happy and relieved to see her that I was willing to overlook the strange smirk that flashed on her face when she said she missed me. It was the smirk she got before a mischievous idea. So they were going to play a trick on me—I knew and was fine by it. If I needed to be hazed to get back into their graces, so be it. I thought, naïvely that the thrills of booze and theft and kissing rude, ugly boys had run its course, but as I approached Monica’s house, my gut sank. The whole group stood in Monica’s yard as if waiting for a parade, except Heather who stood on the porch smoking a cigarette, her smile growing wider and wider as I approached.
Although there’s not a named political outcry (as there is in other songs from their album, like “Dear Mr. President”), “What’s Up?” has all the trappings of a protest song. Beyond its semi-acoustic, semi-rock sound and Perry’s loud-but-folksy delivery, consider the opening verse lyrics: “Twenty-five years and my life is still / Trying to get up that great big hill of hope / For a destination. / I realized quickly when I knew I should / That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man / For whatever that means.” This start shows the speaker feeling that she’s “walking uphill” toward “a destination” that she can’t quite picture. Perhaps, because it has not yet been imagined. And while she doesn’t lean hard on gender-political terms that we’d recognize today, her dismissal about The Brotherhood of Man (“for whatever that means”) struck me as a criticism of a whole system of power that I felt constantly outside of—small enough to be inscrutable by a general audience (so, sellable), but heard by those who felt smothered by it. It’s about the speaker being unsatisfied with the status quo, which is too big and amorphous for her to actually fight: “And so I cry sometimes / When I'm lying in bed / Just to get it all out / What's in my head / And I, I am feeling a little peculiar.”
Peculiar: yes, that’s also how I felt, though I didn’t have a way of articulating why back then. I just knew that Perry’s “dyke” sticker, displayed prominently on her guitar while touring with 4 Non Blondes, caused at least as much buzz as their actual music, especially when the group (and Perry’s guitar sticker) appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. I watched the cultural treatment of her with my breath held. I wasn’t surprised, of course, that she was a lesbian, but that she was so open about it. At that time, I often imagined an adult life partnered with another woman, though only clandestinely: we could get an apartment and just tell everyone we were roommates, I reasoned. No one would even have to know. Then there was Perry, who wanted everyone to know. The mere fact of her as an out lesbian in mainstream media, I understood, was a protest in itself, a call to action, or at least permission to dream of something better: “And I try, oh my god do I try / I try all the time / In this institution. / And I pray, oh my god do I pray. / I pray every single day / For a revolution.”
Fading fame is even less likely in the current informational age. With the myriad venues for online socializing, communicating and general self-display, our every online interaction is recorded and searchable ad infinitum. Googling “Linda Perry,” a potentially common name, the page fills with references to this Linda Perry: born 1965, Grammy nominated, rock singer-songwriter, record producer, etc. You’ll even find news about her recent-ish marriage to Sara Gilbert, also a 90s darling (best known for her role as Darlene on the ABC sitcom Roseanne)—now a co-host of The Talk. So, is Linda Perry only famous for once being famous?
I don’t think so. The fact that Pink would want to write songs with Perry at all suggests that she is, in fact, still significant in pop culture. It’s not like Pink found a dirty-cheeked Perry busking on an L.A. street corner and recruited her. In fact, after that first gut-punch in Walters’s article, every mention he makes of Perry’s songwriting abilities is downright flattering, lauding each successful song from Pink’s album as “a Perry-helmed winner.” He goes out of his way to describe “a languid, Prince-like ballad produced and co-written by Perry, floating through a sitar-sparkled arrangement that's at once ornate and lighter than air.” So, no. Perry’s ostracism isn’t rooted in a lack of musical ability. I guess she just pissed everyone off. She’d been catapulted into fame, accepted into an elite group, then had the audacity to throw it away, to say it wasn’t what she wanted, what she’d worked for. Maybe her expectations of fame turned out to be discordant with fame’s expectations for her. Perhaps the music sounded differently in her head.
“We have a surprise for you” one of them said. They swarmed around me with curious faces, smiling in a way that made my stomach turn. I knew it couldn’t be good, but maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought and I could get through it and show them that I was a good sport and then we’d all be friends again. As I walked past Heather on the porch, she blew a mouthful of smoke into my face, said “Are you gonna choke on it?”, threw her head back into a forced laugh, then shoved me through the front door of the house, adding “Go to Monica’s room. Your surprise is there.”
My head went numb. I was trying to move, think, and not think simultaneously which made me feel like I wasn’t in my body. I floated into Monica’s room and someone slammed the door behind me and their voices rose up in a shrieking chorus of laughter. What I saw at first was quite beautiful; they’d written all over Monica’s walls in permanent black marker. I recognized each of their handwriting and each of them had written my name. That’s when I realized that everything I saw, from floor to ceiling, was a message intended for me: Danielle is a bitch. Danielle is a slut. Danielle is a fucking idiot virgin. Danielle thinks she so much better than everyone but she’s just a stupid cunt. Danielle is a filthy lesbian. Danielle sucks cock. The whole world would be better if Danielle were dead. Danielle, you should kill yourself.
Perry herself looks back at “What’s Up?” with regret. In an interview in 2011 , she admits to Rolling Stone writer Andy Greene, "I didn't like the record at all. 'Drifting' was the only song I loved. I did love 'What's Up?' but I hated the production. When I heard our record for the first time I cried. It didn't sound like me. It made me belligerent and a real asshole. I wanted to say, 'We're a fucking, bad-ass cool band. We're not that fluffy polished bullshit that you're listening to.' It was really difficult." However ungrateful this might sound on first read (to people, like me, who don’t have the talent or luck for the kind of fame Perry reached at age 27), it strikes me now as a bitter confession of disillusionment, and its inevitable shadow, disappointment. I also understand it as a recognition of the deep divide between artistic intention and product, between creating and selling, and even perhaps between an artist’s view of themselves and how they are viewed by others.
For a young musician, who wants to have her work broadcasted in a greater frequency—to have it adored, to become rich and famous—signing with a label might look like dream fulfillment at first. I can see how someone might be disappointed when their sense of individual expression clashes with the myriad compromises musicians must make to be produced. It’s difficult to have one’s work packaged into a sellable object. It defies the precious illusion of authorial originality. Yet, after the 4 Non Blondes breakup, Perry continues in an illustrious career as a songwriter of pop music. Writing hit songs, it seems, is her talent, though one she doesn’t want: "I've just been really bored," Perry tells Rolling Stone in the same article. "If I hear another label tell me that they need a song for the radio I'm going to poke out their eyeballs with a fork. Nobody I work with wants anything out of left field. They just want to keep following the same game plan."
I’ve been listening to Linda Perry’s venture with Deep Dark Robot, a 2011 album titled 8 Songs About a Girl—to try to get insight into how she might have wanted the 4 Non Blondes album to sound. One song I really like is “You Mean Nothing to Me,” about the end of a love affair. There’s only a mild echo effect on her voice, which sustains a fraught vulnerability, like someone on a floor the morning after a dead-end lover’s fight, trying to find the pieces of a broken vase. It’s sad and compelling. The video for the song is in black-and-white and vacillates between scenes of a beautiful party girl laughing over drinks and a defeated Perry dressed in black, sans microphone, sitting in front of the band while strumming her guitar. All of this combines into a pleasing dramatic irony: the speaker’s devastation and fixation on the “you” undermines the chorus in which the speaker makes a claim that we know isn’t true. Because the claim is in the chorus, the speaker is doomed to repeat it, over and over, trying to convince herself: “You mean nothing to me. You mean nothing to me. Your time ran out.”
It’s a depiction of loneliness that I might relate to whole years of my life. I don’t know if choosing to spend your life scrutinizing human experience places you outside of that experience—that writing causes a necessary loneliness—or if writers are drawn to the work because they feel like outsiders to begin with (too sensitive, too self-conscious, too inside their own imaginations as a way to cope with the dissatisfactions and inequalities of being alive). Probably both. But in my case seclusion was reinforced by the attitudes of everyone around me. Strangers, relatives, and friends alike spoke to me as if I were just passing through. Sometimes this was meant as a compliment: Monica told me once that she thought I would be famous, go to wherever famous people lived. Sometimes it was damning: my father told me once that when he imagined my future, he saw me in a big empty house, alone. As it turns out, everyone was wrong.
 Walters, Barry. Rolling Stone. 11/27/2003, Issue 936, p 92.
 Summers, Claude. The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance, and Musical Theatre. San Francisco: GLBT, Inc., 2004.
 Greene, Andy. "Linda Perry Forms New Band, Admits She Never Liked 4 Non Blondes." Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Danielle Cadena Deulen is the author of three books: Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us (Barrow Street Book Award, 2015) and Lovely Asunder (Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize, 2011); and The Riots (AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction and GLCA Award, 2011). She teaches in the English Department at Willamette University in Salem, OR, and is the poetry series editor at Acre Books. You can find her author’s website here: danielledeulen.net.