(16) natalie imbruglia, "torn" DEFEATS (11) skee-lo, "i wish" 361-134 AND JOINS 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 25.
elite 8 analysis of natalie imbruglia by brian oliu but you also need to read the original essay by Aaron Smith below
I purchased "Left of the Middle" for four dollars at Tunes, a record store in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. A favorite past time of my cousin Ian & I were to get dropped off at this particular record store & buy as many CDs as possible—we'd hit up Tunes, then Blockbuster Video to get an N64 game to rent for the evening. We would spend evenings hanging out in the basement eating burgers and hot dogs grilled up by my uncle. We took turns listening to our purchases while we played Descent for the N64—even though I was your typical hardcore/punk kid I never quite fit in, mostly because I had an unabashed love for pop music; something that continues until this day.
Left of the Middle was a really good pop album for 1997—you can tell that the producers listened to a lot of Garbage & Belly & Portishead as there are a lot of attempts at trying to recreate that magic—as a result, instead of "Torn"'s sadness, there is a lot of bubbling anger & taking that jilted lover scorn & bending it in a few different directions. "Smoke" is a really good underrated ballad, second single "Wishing I Was There" has a killer chorus, & the titular track is your classic 90s sad instrumental last song on the album.
So when "That Day," the rumored first single off of Imbruglia's second album was leaked in .wav snippets on the early 2000s Internet, I was excited: the song was driving & had no chorus & was strange & weird and breathless, & myself, a bundle of emotions when I was 19 was totally into it. I scoured Geocities websites to see if I could find information on the album being released. The problem was that the single was not a very good "single," according to the record label & as a result, the album was delayed almost three years. When it was finally released, it came out on German import. Ian & I could spend hours at Scooter's in hopes of stumbling across something that shouldn't have been there—finding a needle in a haystack, say, a limited run Dischord Records release, or some weird Japanese promotional single. There was something to the chase. This, of course, inevitably lead me to purchasing "White Lillies Island" off of some shady website & getting my parents' credit card stolen online for the first time, causing my mother to swear off online shopping for at least four years.
I finally was able to track the CD down many months later—this time on eBay. It arrived, bubblewrapped, to my college mailbox direct from Germany. When I went to play it, it would barely work—the CD had anti-rip preventative software which caused the tracks to skip around and glitch out on my Dell, leading me to borrow a friend's CD AM/FM alarm clock for listening sessions. I could listen to it in my father's car, but the first track, "That Day," was unlistenable, as it would skip ahead to track two, "Beauty On The Fire," a song about giving into addiction. "Wrong Impression," an attempt at comeback single, had some legs to it (Natalie Imbruglia had since grown out her hair & was riding around on a bicycle in the video) & I'll still hear in Publix from time to time.
There is something to accessibility when we think of a one-hit-wonder; that we can find Torn if we wish to look for it—it is presumably in the back of the karaoke three-ring binder at Jackie's Lounge, it is the first hit that pops up when we google Imbruglia's name. "Left of the Middle," I bought the CD used. It wasn't the only copy of it there either: I simply purchased the one with the least amount of scratches, the one with no crease through Natalie's face on the front cover. It can be found tomorrow if you want to look for it—it is always hiding in plain sight. When you are searching for a thing that does not hit each note properly, it is where you find blankness; every search turns into a struggle. It becomes a mission to wade through the surface expectations and find the "what after".
I was living in Alabama when Imbruglia's third album was released—it was 2005 & while I still purchased my fair share of physical albums, for the most part I was able to track down the mp3s that I needed through the internet; various Russian cryptocurrency sites & torrents made getting music easy as soon as you figured out what hoops to jump through. However, there was still a thrill in tracking these files down; they were songs that you couldn't simply just turn your radio on to find, or go to a record store on release day. I bought Bitcoin. I learned exchange rates. By 2006, I stopped buying physical CDs altogether.
My cousin unexpectedly passed away shortly after "White Lillies Island" was released. I often wonder what it was we would do with our summer afternoons if he were still alive—Blockbuster Video is gone, as is the lost art of CD shopping. Imbruglia's new album is available for streaming instantly. Everything is popular. Everything is everywhere.
Natalie Imbruglia still exists. She is on social media, mostly posting photos of herself at various benefits, along with the occasional view of the Australian coastline. She is all at once completely accessible, but entirely unaccessible—her closest tour date is Malmo, Sweden. I sent her a brief message about this essay—I do not anticipate a reply. To love a one-hit wonder is to always be one step ahead, as well as one step behind. I search for my cousin as well: he is everywhere, yet also nowhere at the same time. Perhaps this is why I hold onto my insistence that Natalie Imbruglia didn't just have the one hit. It is important to me to know that after it all, she still exists somewhere tangible, somewhere to the side, just out of focus.
AARON SMITH ON "TORN"
I was supposed to be writing an essay about Natalie Imbruglia’s song “Torn” when my mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It was in the back of my head that I had a deadline approaching. Over the course of three weeks, I sat in rooms waiting to see what each doctor would say about my mother: urologist (You have a big mass in your kidney); urologist again (Your lungs are clear); oncology urologist (You’ve had this tumor for at least fifteen years); and the post-surgery room where they take you and you worry the news is bad because they’ve isolated you. Thankfully, my mother’s prognosis is good: after the doctor cut her in half, pulled out her kidney, he said: Good news and She did great. He even drew us a picture with a pencil (kidney mass as a big scribbly circle and a “thrombus” (a new word we learned) moving toward her liver). My whole family listened rapt and confused and relieved. I kept thinking: those hands have been inside my mother.
Every day after the diagnosis I told myself I’d work on the essay at night before bed. I’d hum the beginning of the chorus: “I’m all out of faith. / This is how I feel.” And then I’d get distracted or too tired or someone in my family would need something or I’d think: what if her cancer is as bad as we are afraid to imagine. I’d say to myself on the back porch: “I don’t think I can leave her body in the ground and drive the fourteen hours back home to Boston.”
I first encountered “Torn” on MTV when I was in graduate school. I mostly wanted to fuck the guy in the video, whom I found out is gay in real life when I bought an expensive British magazine in a gay bookstore on Pittsburgh’s South Side that put everything a person bought into a brown paper bag. The bag told everyone you had a secret and it was sexy. This was right as the internet was beginning: bare-bones email and picture-less gay chat rooms, but nothing elaborate, and porn was still a tangible thing on VHS that my friends and I passed to one another, a kind of intimacy knowing which scene a friend liked and exactly what they were into. But it wasn’t just sex I hid. It was anything that marked me as a fag. My shame then was a tumor as big and sick as my mother’s.
Like I imagine many guys who grew up gay in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I got used to imagining myself in the place of women in movies, television and videos. Every shirtless stud was on top of me. That man was bringing me flowers. The guy, Jeremy Sheffield, in the “Torn” video might actually love me if I had glossy lips, a pixie haircut and tugged my sleeves like Natalie singing about being “naked on the floor.” I didn’t know then that guys like Jeremy—muscled, gorgeous, floppy-haired—don’t usually date chubby, balding guys like me who wear glasses; they usually date guys who look like them: Narcissus pinching his own nipples, staring into the stream. I hadn’t had sex with a man at that point, but I’d been every woman fucked by every sweaty man in every movie: Sharon Stone in Sliver, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl kissing Harrison Ford out of his dress shirt, Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks.
Everyone kept praying for my mother. Each text from her friends: Praise god! We have everyone praying! Wait and see what god can do! And I kept thinking: why did god let her get cancer and carry it around in her body for over fifteen years? Why did she have to have cancer while her mother was dying? Why did she have cancer when she scrubbed the kitchen cabinets on Saturdays? Why did she have cancer at my parents’ fortieth anniversary party my sister and I threw when she looked so pretty and happy and cancerless. I’m all out of faith. This is how I feel.
Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” written by American alternative-rock band Ednaswap, survives because of the melody, the springy guitar at the beginning, the catchy, spin-around-your-room-in-a-circle push of it, the chorus and the electric guitar leading us out of the song while Natalie thrashes in her blue hoodie (the blonde homo in the baby-blue sweater and nineties corduroys who, for obvious reasons, can’t seem to get the kiss right).
The lyrics really don’t make sense: “I thought I saw a man brought to life. / He was warm, he came around like he was dignified. / He showed me what it was to cry.” It’s as if the writers needed a rhyme, something to fit the established structure. What does dignity have to do with crying in this scenario? “Illusion never changed / into something real” leads us eventually to “You're a little late. / I'm already torn.” Wasn’t he, like my mother’s cancer, already there?
I look at these lyrics and feel like I can make sense out of them sometimes, but then I feel like my writing students who try and try to understand a poem that makes no sense, that only the writer (barely) understands, and then try to convince me with republican-spin that it’s obvious, common sense, not confusing at all. I always say: “Sounds like you’re writing a poem instead of reading one.” I guess wanting to believe in anything requires a bit of spin—like Natalie twirling on that set—more work than we should be asked to do and still not quite making sense.
“So I guess the fortune teller's right. / I should have seen just what was there /and not some holy light.” Now that things are looking good for my mother, everyone keeps saying that god had a hand in the result. I keep thinking about the doctor’s hand opening her torso. I asked a lover once which finger he put inside me, and he flipped me off across the bed: fuck you and this is how I fucked you. How to make sense of what’s inside us? How to make meaning? Do we need it?
Maybe some songs just feel good. Maybe it’s okay not to understand, not to pick at the threads. Maybe it’s not necessary to point out whether a thing is poorly constructed or not. Maybe songs like “Torn” let us fuck a British guy in a video and imagine a life, even briefly, where we can have everything we want just the way we want it. Maybe the point is to belt out with passion silly words that sound good together because we don’t have the right words for things we don’t even know are inside us?
Perhaps songs like “Torn” are aptly titled “one-hit wonders.” There’s no need to really think about them, but year after year they come back to us because it just feels good to sing, because it just feels good to get fucked. They help us deal with the fact that there isn’t a god who gives a shit about us. We don’t need to waste our time hiding the things we want in brown bags.
Just because “the perfect sky is torn” doesn’t mean we have to look.
Aaron Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Primer, Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground. He is assistant professor in creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
elite 8 analysis of "torn" by rick moody but you also need to read the original essay on "i wish" by dayvid figler below
I can’t get back the time I have spent listening to “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia, and you can’t either, and this is among the grinding injustices of contemporary life, along with death and taxes. As my wife has pointed out, it is virtually guaranteed, these days, that you will hear “Torn” playing through the p.a. system at the large pharmacy/health & beauty aids purveyor you visit, and this is undoubtedly the case if you are purchasing something really embarrassing, and it is further inevitable if it’s one of those chain pharmacies noteworthy for the opioid addicts and other sketchy unemployed persons loitering out front in the parking lot. Then it is certain that at some point “Torn” will be playing through the p.a. system, being interrupted only briefly by a cheerful voice announcing a discount this week on pain relief and rubber gloves.
How many ways do I hate “Torn?” I cannot count the ways that I hate it. My distress at hearing even the shortest snippet of “Torn” is such that it causes, in all instances, a desire to flee from any environment in which the song is being broadcast. Were I ever to be worked over by the intelligence agencies of the USA for some purpose, they would only have to broadcast “Torn” at my house for a prolonged period in order to produce the information needed.
However, before I proceed to dismember the song to the best of my ability, I should point out that it is a cover of a song previously recorded by a not-terribly-successful early nineties grunge/indie “rock” band called Ednaswap. This band kind of sounded like Veruca Salt, or like a more marketable version of the Live Through This edition of Hole, and the frontwoman Anne Preven went on to write songs for Demi Lovato and Katy Perry, et al. Ednaswap did, yes, kind of having something going on, and when Anne Preven sings “I am cold, I am shamed, lying naked on the floor,” you can actually imagine that Anne Preven may have actually experienced something similar, or, at least, that the line was written the line from human experience of some sort. Ednaswap had to cash it in because of lack of interest from the record buying public (and perhaps because of the name, which came to Anne Preven in a dream). This is sad. But failure to catch on is good, in a way, because good art can be made out of failure, and perhaps it was the failure of Ednaswap (in addition to the horror that is “Torn”) that caused Anne Preven to have the chops necessary to write for Demi Lovato. Natalie Imbruglia, on the other hand, sounds, when she sings “lying naked on the floor,” like her lying naked on the floor was occasioned by a perfume commercial (or a commercial for Australian Twisties), a soap opera, or other televised fare. It is hard to feel that the “shamed” portion of the Anne Preven’s lyric has ever had anything to do with Natalie Imbruglia, although there may have been a moment in acting class in Sydney when Imbruglia couldn’t quite pull off doing the monologue from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and felt something like what you and I, with our daily helpings of death and taxes, might call shame.
The first horrible fact of “Torn” is the acoustic rhythm guitar part, which tames the grungy original with an insipidness that is impossible to live with, even as it attempts to imitate The Sundays (in particular “Here’s Where the Story Ends”). Imbruglia’s soft rock attack on the chorus flattens the potential for any human emotion to emerge from the Vaseline’d edges of her undertaking, of course, and the music behind her proceeds as if the best session musicians available in Australia at the time have been corralled into service, counting every second until their wages materialized. Look, there’s nothing more to say about the song, and if I have to listen to it again in order to write these lines, I cannot be held accountable for my actions. If you think that I am being hard on “Torn,” go and listen to Imbruglia’s album Male, whose conceptual idea finds the actress and model singing songs made popular by men (though in most cases this fact seems incidental to the composition). A country version of “Friday, I’m in Love?” With a banjo solo! It’s here! How about “I Melt With You?” whose refrain “It’s getting better all the time” sounded quite as simulated, and counterfactual. Spotify even has a “commentary” version of Male, in which you can hear Imbruglia talk about, e.g., how much she likes The Who. (“Let My Love Open the Door,” has woodwinds on it.) I don’t recommend listening to the album or the commentary.
“Torn” is the kind of thing that encourages opioid addicts to panhandle out front of a desert Walgreen’s, because it is morally flatulent, and does for songwriting what anal bleaching does for the young adults of Beverly Hills. Imbruglia, as a singer, knows about as much about human emotions as one of those advertisements for erectile dysfunction. She sells the song exactly in the way that she would sell you Coca-Cola (at 140 calories per 12 ounces) or some Australian Twisties. In a way, it’s not her fault, she will write a children’s book at some point, and later on, when desperate, she will consider a diet program. She has already been a judge on a talent competition. It’s the people who facilitated this recording, and it’s ubiquity, who should all be forced to work at a desert Walgreen’s and listen to this shit. I hope never to hear it again, but as I have to go to Target this afternoon to get more SOS pads, that is if I finish my taxes today, I am guaranteed to hear it. Pass the Oxys.
Rick Moody's most recent novel is HOTELS OF NORTH AMERICA.
dayvid figler on "i wish"
I am not a big man—my official height is 5’6 ¾”—but I’ve come to terms. There was a time when the prognosis was that I would never top the 5-foot plateau. My pediatrician was a lovely fella (maybe 5’4”) named Dr. Merkin who broke the news to my parents when I was ten.
Apparently, there was a hypothesis of a cartilage disorder. Talk of breaking and resetting my legs and then of human growth hormone treatment. It all seemed radical and hopeless. Luckily my folks waited it out, but it wasn’t a smooth transition: I was already a year ahead in school, so not only was I the smallest kid in my class, I was the smallest kid in the class behind. Suffice, sports. Suffice, girls. Suffice, bullies.
The spurt to steady and current height happened all at once and not until age 15. More of a spurt-ita.
“I wish I was a little bit taller.”
Skee-Lo (20-year old Antoine Roundtree) dropped his personal wish list on radio/video audiences in 1995. Seemingly, no one was content in 1995 and Skee-Lo struck that zeitgeist. Add in the catchy hook, the easy flow, easy repeat rhymes, the Tribe Called Quest-Lite (with an edict from the Fresh Prince) atmospheric background and it’s a hit, blasting at every stoplight from every White Dodge Neon for a good six months.
But, back to the core wishes of that catchy hook:
3. GIRL WHO LOOKED GOOD (CALL HER)
4. RABBIT IN A HAT WITH A BAT
5. 64 IMPALA
In retrospect and as much as they felt good to profess to all of us, are these really the universal wishes? The desires that unite us all? At the very least, are these the wishes that make a great song for the ages? Within the confines of the dope rhymes did the rapper tap the matter of the all-times?
Let’s dig in!
“I wish I was a little bit taller”
Remember the Brady Bunch episode where Bobby (perhaps as proto Skee-Lo) decided to do something about it by hanging from the top bar of the backyard swing set? All the same reasons. Shrimpdom’s universal complaint. But yeah, that was stupid. Think it would only make your arms longer, if even that, Bobby. Waste of time. Wait! Did you just find HGH in Johnny Bravo’s backpack?*
Then again, what’s the end game of height wishery? Will little Bobby Brady ever be happy?
Wish all you want, there is a terminus. A final measure.
I will never be 5’7”.
Bobby will never be taller than Greg.
Skee-Lo will never be Skee-Hi.
Is this wish a folly? And how tall is tall enough? I know plenty of 5’10” guys who want that 6 with every fiber. What is the magic of a little bit?
Maybe that’s it. Just a “little.” The annoyance of falling just short, or the possibilities from having a smidge more. Maybe an unattainable goal, but also a scapegoat for all your shortcomings? The one chance (if a miracle happened) to get modestly more tippy in your toes. Peer over the fence. Better your percentage at the hoop. Give your crush a better line of sight. Remove yourself from the radar of one more bully.
An inch and no longer the keeper of the weather “down there.” No more last (or never picked) for even soccer. Soccer!
From us, wees, to you, already-perfectly-tall-shut-ups, a “little bit” is a solid wish. Dream away the pain.
“I wish I was a baller”
In 1995, Dennis Rodman was as “baller” as it got. Now, Skee-Lo was an LA Kid (the song video takes place on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles—total cred) but there’s not a Lakers jersey in the whole video and he’s seemingly wearing a Chris Webber Michigan jersey with his main basketball rival in the video is sporting a Larry Bird jersey! Seems like the whole Hoop Dream thing here was more wardrobe department decision than street ethic. So… back to Dennis Rodman.
Dennis fits the bill for “baller” in a lot of ways—grew up in an impoverished part of town, worked his way up to being one of the top rebounders in the country and then on to a five NBA championships with two different teams. And he didn’t do it quietly or without flare. Who can forget the ever changing hair styles and hues, the face jewelry, the fur coats, the Carmen Electra?!
Indeed, the metamorphosis of Rodman from basketball “baller” to just straight up, “baller, yo” arguably makes him the progenitor of the free-wheeling, cash-spending, living large for the sake of large-living person.
So here we can split the wish into two paths. To be a big time, basketball baller is likely unattainable. And so we are relegated to the wish, alone, and bide the time wearing jerseys, thinking about basketball, filling out brackets for March Madness (or ridiculous variants thereof), playing the video games. On the other hand, we can all be “ballers” if just for one day. I wish I could save up enough cash and treat all my friends to courtside tickets for the Golden State Warriors—popcorn is on me, Carmen Electra!
“I wish I had a girl who looked good, I would call her”
The first half of the 1990s was all about the pager. There were a lot of songs that referenced pagers. My favorite was A Tribe Called Quest’s “Skypager.” Like seriously good hip-hop (words not used for “I Wish”) and bonus (or wah-wah) it has a Donald Trump reference.
Pagers were cheap, tiny, handy and ubiquitous. Here’s how they worked.
You buy a pager from a strip mall or a kiosk from a guy who did outrageous television commercials. In my town, it was JJ, the King of Beepers. He wore a crown, had an accent of indistinguishable origin and was flanked on either side by audaciously festooned bikini-clad ladies who did NOT have a line of dialogue. The pager had a clip that attached to your pants. The pager would buzz and you’d look down to the display that would have a phone number or a code or a phone number followed by a code. Like 555 1212 911 911—which could translate to either call your mom, you’re really in trouble for not calling earlier, or call your mom because your house is on fire, etc.
And even though pagers were just middlemen for land line calls, people weren’t really into calling each other on the phone in 1995 any more than they are today. People would just hit each other’s pagers if for no reason to let the other know they were thinking about them.
That Skee-Lo is seemingly wishing for a conventionally attractive mate is neither unexpected nor does it in any way elevate the underdog hero of wishery. He bespeaks of “hood rats” as his typical dating fare and it’s a lament. In fact, there’s a whole section of laments: his hatchback, broken 8-track, a spare tire flat, getting picked last at basketball, getting hit with a bottle, rejection by fly girls. And while maybe we all just want him (and us) to wish for a girl who would give love for who you are and not what you wish to be—perhaps we can forgive Skee-Lo and place him in a different 1995 trope. That maybe the girl who looks good (for whatever awkward calling would follow) is one of those hood rats. Maybe she just takes off her glasses or does up her hair and finds the right dress a la Tai Fraser in Clueless (RIP Brittany). Skee-Lo, she was there ALL ALONG!
“I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat”
“The Magic You Will See Tonight Is Performed Without Camera Tricks or Video Effects. You Will See At Home Exactly What You Would See If You Were Here With Our Live Audience.”
Unexplained Forces was magician David Copperfield’s sixteenth and penultimate television special. It aired in 1995. Copperfield (David Seth Kotkin, born in 1956) emerged on the stage in a poofy, white, overly button-clad (but barely-buttoned) shirt, with a black T-shirt underneath and a hairdo equal parts pompadour, mullet, feathered mane and Tribble. Jet black. There were no rabbits, but an exasperatingly long bit involving a chicken that variously appeared and dis. He talked up ladies from the audience and brought one on stage. His assistants were in nighties. He sported hypnotic sideburns. In 1995, David Copperfield was THE face of magic.
Wishing for magic is pretty pedestrian, since, well, you already have wishes. Maybe, all paths lead to the same destination. Mastering magic gives you a permanent wish machine for the (now ridiculously aforementioned) girls! But with magic, you can create the illusion of anything—being good at sports? Being taller? Astounding bullies into distracted submission? And if that doesn’t work on the latter—that’s where the wished-for “bat” comes in? Now whether the bat is for Skee-Lo or for the rabbit to do the dirty work for him is one of those unanswerable questions. Indeed, it’s all quite curious—this peculiarly specific foray.
Then again, the easy answer is Skee-Lo was sitting in his house, watching TV, going down the list, and decided—sure, that one, too! Later, in accord with the instructions he placed his hands on the family Zenith.
“Later You Will Be Asked To Touch Your Television Screen And Take Part In An Illusion With David Copperfield. Follow His Instructions And You’ll Experience The Magic Right in Your Own Home.”
Did he feel it? Did something happen when like a visitor to a prison, he placed his hands on the glass between him and Copperfield?
Dunno, but this one seems off. The path of Copperfield prospectively from 1995 seems a wonky road.
“And a six four Impala”
A fully restored 1964 Chevy Impala is a sweet enough car. And maybe this of all the rest could be the Monkey Paw in the mix. I mean, wish for it and it happens, but your favorite uncle had to die. And then all the repairs, and the lack of safety features. It could get quickly get dark. But granted, a nice vintage ride is a totally legit wish.
Only wonder if he asked for the ‘64 Impala merely because of the rhyme. In that vein, did he have other transportation options? Most certainly, my favorite two of which are:
A 1995 Ford Explorer (far more practical).
A Fishing Trawler (far more unique).
In any event, with a slick ride, a little height (to see over the steering wheel), a pretty girl paging you incessantly on your way to the basketball court to not not get picked. Seems like a solid set of wishes, with or without magic bat-wielding rabbits riding shotgun. Literally, or as a metaphor, the song (generally) holds. From my personal experience, I did and do endorse this song as an anthem of the underdog. Maybe not definitive, but worth consideration.
Wish away with Skee-Lo. Unlike HGH or radical, elective bone-breaking procedures—it seems like it can’t really hurt.
*More likely a Quaalude
Dayvid Figler is a capital defense attorney practicing law in his hometown, Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s a radio commentator, essayist and lead screecher of the seminal (and only) punk-rock polka band, Tippy Elvis. In the 1990s, he was a deejay at the coveted 2AM to 5AM Sunday morning shift on College Radio station, KUNV, where he played far too much Ciccone Youth. His mini-memoir, NO KIDS, NO SCAT, NO PISS—A First Amendment Love Story is available on Kindle for a buck.