(11) 4 non blondes, "what's up?" defeats (6) merril bainbridge, "mouth" 110-26

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 Mar 6.

Which song is the best?
(6) Merril Bainbridge, "Mouth"
(11) 4 Non Blondes, "What's Up?"
Quotes To Know

lindsey drager on "mouth"

The problem of the song that is fad, that ultimately fades and so is fated, is a trouble two-fold: first, it is about the song and the song’s relationship with time, both zeitgeist and endurance; second, it is about the song and the song’s relationship with its performer, where she goes and whether she takes the song along with her en route. This is how the trouble of the song that is fad, fated, and fades is also always a bit spectral, a bit about what might have been.


Merril Bainbridge’s “Mouth” is released to the U.S. on August 20th, 1996, the same day the U.S. minimum wage is raised 90 cents to $5.15 an hour. This is also a mere two weeks after the end of the 1996 Olympics, which are hosted in Atlanta, Georgia. I spend this summer living in my bathing suit which doubles as a leotard because if you are nine and identify as female, you are watching the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. I want to be a CIA agent (partly because my favorite book is Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 Harriet the Spy and partly because, obviously, Dana Scully), but I know CIA agents have to—while being searingly smart—also go through physical training, so I think, what the hell? I will also be a gymnast, on the side. This despite my chronic juvenile asthma, which requires I take breathing treatments three times a day, and which means I do not go to recess. Instead, my father comes to school and we sit in the Vice Principal’s office and I suck in mechanized breath for forty-five minutes. The liquid agent—the serum of easy breathing—is packaged in glass vials and there is a trick to breaking them without splitting open your fingertip pads, which I have not yet mastered.

I can’t know for sure where I was on August 20th, 1996, but I know I would have been scrambling to write a letter to each U.S. women’s gymnast congratulating her before school was back in session. This is how it could be the case that on August 20th, 1996, while I am writing a letter to Dominique Dawes on college-ruled notebook paper (having already used up my one hour of computer time for the week), I am also bopping my head and shoulders in that way that children do, to Merril Bainbridge’s “Mouth.”
     E.M. Cioran says in The Trouble With Being Born (which is really our sole and only trouble): “Anyone who gives himself up in writing believes—without realizing the fact—that his work will survive the years, the ages, time itself [. . .] If he felt, while he was at work on it, that it was perishable, he would leave off where he was and never finish.”
     “Mouth” was originally released in 1994 in Australia, where Bainbridge grew up and now lives, and it garnered little attention because—as her website says—it was lost in the mob of the holiday releases. In early 1995, it was decided that the song would be reissued with a bit of revision, and with these tweaks, it made its way to the #1 spot on the Australian charts for six consecutive weeks. After its U.S. debut on August 20th, 1996, it spent a total of 36 weeks on the charts, ultimately selling 600,000 copies around the world.
     This is how it could be the case that, in the car on the way home from school where I am leaving because I had another asthma attack, and as my mother says that something very unexpected has happened to my babysitter, Merril Bainbridge’s “Mouth” is playing. The babysitter can’t be dead or dying because my mother doesn’t break sad news this way, and I have already known twelve people that were killed in cars that are allowed to go too fast because my father is in the business of auto racing. The babysitter is pregnant. She is sixteen, and all I know about being pregnant is that it is the one thing worse than drugs and that time matters—when it befalls you matters: if you’re old, it is a very good thing, a safe and celebrated thing but when you’re young it is like a disease, terminal, or, worse, not terminal and so you have to cope with it lifelong, and you will get looks like the neighbor who knocks on our door at midnight naked because, as my father puts it, his mind is melting.
     From The Trouble with Being Born: “Only one thing matters: learning to be the loser.”
     In 1996 we are all listening to “Mouth,” whether consciously or not—in the elevator at the doctor’s office where others are whispering about the fate of Ted Kaczynski; in line to pay at the gas station, while watching the muted T.V. report on the death of Tupac Shakur; from the car in the lane over stopped at the red light, the song transposed over the news that the FDA had approved Ritonavir, the first protease inhibitors for the treatment of people living with HIV. Bainbridge’s “Mouth” was on the radio while all kinds of tragedy and triumph was unfolding, and while it seemed minor then, a pop song with a cute Aussie blond, it’s very status as peripheral—as perishable—uniquely yokes it with all that haunts that time.
     From Joel Best’s Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads: “What causes a fad to lose adherents? While the answer might seem obvious—the novelty didn’t work as promised—that turns out to be too simple a response to a rather complicated question. Fads fade not so much because they fail as because they age.”
     On her website, Bainbridge says that the real reason she fell off the charts, the real reason she became a kind of one-hit-wonder is bound to her decision to be a better mother. As she puts it: “One day, after returning from a weekend interstate, I noticed that my baby would no longer look at me. He kept turning away and just snuggled into his dad and wouldn’t let go. I naturally burst into tears and spent the rest of the week doing some hard thinking. I decided to take a break.”
     There is one citation for “Mouth” in my university’s catalog: Andrew Fuller’s Raising Real People: Creating a Resilient Family. The citation appears in a chapter about the relationship between teenagers and boredom, what bad can come from this formula and how to keep them far apart. Merril has said that the song isn’t about sex, or—confusingly—she has said this: “To me, it’s not about straight up sexuality. It doesn’t bother me if people connect with that, because obviously, it’s there, but it wasn’t something I was aware of.”

     “Would it be my fault if I could turn you on?” she sings, and I can’t help thinking about the other question that loiters beneath the surface: once on, how to turn one off?
     The babysitter has her baby, though from then on she is discussed in low tones. By the time that baby is released from her mother, “Mouth” is already falling on the charts.
     I watch the video now and think about how mouth is also a verb—“to mouth” or to use the lips to craft the ghost of words, soundless as the past. I watch the video muted and suddenly there is no question that this song is about a woman trying to sex, to be sexed—she plays into all the conventional tropes; looking up with puppy-dog eyes, hugging her knees, head tilted, lips puckered. She is a woman playing a girl, the foil to the babysitter, who is a girl playing a woman.
     From Flavor of the Month: “People are often proud to be adopting a novelty because it demonstrates that they are progressive and up-to-date. But they are much less inclined to publicize their decision to abandon a fad. There are too many embarrassing interpretations. Did they make an unwise choice? Didn’t they know what they were doing? Were they sufficiently prudent, or did they foolishly rush into something they didn’t understand?”
     The babysitter has her child at sixteen, birth happening through another kind of mouth, a mouth south that first invites and then releases, if you are inclined toward men or motherhood. And somehow, miraculously, when I am twelve, my breathing evens, and I grow out of asthma. It happens that bizarrely, my asthma staying firmly juvenile, and all the anxiety I’d harbored about being burdened with rough breathing as an adult abruptly dissolves.
     Merril now spends her time on her clothing line for new mothers, an online company called Peachymama. “You’re not pregnant anymore. So why wear maternity clothes for breastfeeding? It doesn’t make sense,” the website says. “Our clothes are specially designed for your post-pregnancy body.”
     Cioran: “We do not rush toward death, we flee the catastrophe of birth.”

Lindsey Drager writes in Charleston, South Carolina.

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.” [1]
     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.” [2] 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 [3], 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.

[1] Walters, Barry. Rolling Stone. 11/27/2003, Issue 936, p 92.

[2] Summers, Claude. The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance, and Musical Theatre. San Francisco: GLBT, Inc., 2004.

[3] 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

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