Fiona Apple fetches some food from her hotel minibar. Her favorite: un-turkey sandwiches. "I have, like, 17,000 of them," she says. Apple is a vegan. On tour, she eats the same thing every day before a show: split-pea soup.
She empties the contents of her bag ("What my friend Michele calls the Black Hole") onto the quilt. I request an inventory. "A bag of jewels and ribbons . . . makeup . . . lighters . . . matches . . . rolling papers . . . a photo album . . . " - this she picked up from home: faded pictures of her and her sister playing as kids – "lots of empty card packets from when David was around . . . lots of hotel bills . . . the Jenny McCarthy book – I like her . . . a tin of makeup someone got me . . . a book of poetry about death . . ." – a friend suffered a loss and she wanted to understand - "my psychiatric medication . . ."
"My psychiatric problem," she answers succinctly.
Have you been on something for a long time?
"A few years. I don't get depressed and stay depressed for a long time. What would happen to me is the most exhausting thing. I wanted to die before. I truly did want to die before. I remember I would be sitting in my shrink's office, looking at his computer with one of those screen savers on, and they have all these cubes in different colors, and I swear my mood would change. . . . A purple square would come up and I'd feel, 'Everything's OK,' then a green one would come up and I'd be, 'Everything's terrible.' It would make no sense to me. I still don't understand it."
Finally, there's her journal. I ask her to open it at random and read me something. It's a few lines of verse. Maybe a lyric-to-be.
People don't like you, honey, that's a good sign
Most people don't know nothing but opinions
Very few find the facts
You keep trying to make them all side with you
You're gonna waste all your time
Because you can't get 'em, shouldn't want 'em, don't need 'em, so move on, be righteous and relax
"That's me writing to myself," she says. "I'm very thrilled that other people can get something out of my songs, but I write them for myself."
As we speak, she contorts her body into a little ball, or sticks limbs out at the unusual angles available only to the double-jointed. When she talks, she talks boldly, but sometimes she goes silent. She stares ahead, or down, and for a while she just doesn't say anything.
I watch her perform in Boston. She plays her entire album and three covers – Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting in Limbo," Bill Withers' "Use Me" and Jimi Hendrix's "Angel." She talks to the audience in a manic, cheery manner – like a slightly nervous ringleader pupil trying to tell the class something important before the teacher walks in. She's funny, too. A long-haired woman rushes up to the stage and hands her a gift. Fiona holds it up for the rest of the audience to see. It's an apple. She pretends to ponder this offering for a moment, then says, deadpan, "I don't get it."
One of the subjects she keeps referring to onstage tonight is the boyfriend about whom she wrote some of Tidal's more barbed songs. She tells the audience that she recently spoke with him for the first time since they broke up, and how good she feels because she doesn't hate him anymore. His name is Tyson. She tracked him down at his college one morning after she'd been up all night and had ended up drunk and alone and wanting someone to talk to. They told her he was sleeping. "Tell him it's Fiona," she said. They talked for three hours.
Still, I am a little surprised a few days later when she passes on his number for me to call him at college in Atlanta, where he studies bio and moonlights as an acid-jazz DJ. He tells me about how they got together, a year after they first met, when he was out rollerblading on the Columbia University campus. "After that day," he says, "we hung out with each other for 10 days straight without going home." They went out for two and a half years, on and off. He was her first real boyfriend. Then it ended. "I remember it being all my fault," he says. "Well, 95 percent my fault. I started seeing this other girl and liking her a little bit. And she said one day, 'I never want to see you again.' And then a year later an album's out." (Later, Fiona tells me that afterward she became friends with the other girl. One night they tried ecstasy together and were kissing. They were going to take a photo and send it to Tyson. "We thought, 'This'll be the greatest,'" she laughs. " 'The two girls that he fucked over. Let's make him think that we're together now.'")
Tyson remembers listening to Tidal for the first time. He knew he was in there, and he would go through the songs, over and over, figuring it out. "'Sleep to Dream,' pretty much it felt like that's what she was saying to me the last time I talked to her," he says. "And the video was set up in a way so it looks like her bedroom – a futon on the floor, a TV." The first time he saw that video, he was on his bed at college, lying on his back, with a girl on top of him, kissing his neck. And suddenly he saw Fiona. "Kneeling on the ground, looking through the TV, looking straight at me," he says. Saying those words. This mind, this body and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways/So don't forget what I told you, don't come round, I got my own hell to raise.
He had to ask that girl to get off him. He couldn't carry on.
When Fiona Apple was young, and she felt like wallowing, the song she put on was Madonna's "Live to Tell." As it played, she would do what she calls floor-dancing: dancing while lying on the floor. She never really felt that she could dance standing up. When she felt happier, she would play Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." She would put on her roller skates. She had this ritual that she was convinced would make her safe. She would roller-skate around the dining-room table 88 times, 88 being the number of keys on the piano. After she'd done that, she knew she'd be safe until everyone got home.
Fiona Apple is on the 34th floor of MTV's New York offices, talking to a camera about her year. "You feel like it's been a second," she says, sitting down, "and you feel like it's been 12 years."
She's frank to a fault. "Alanis broke the ceiling, and then I walked into an office and they said, 'Girl . . . young . . . songwriter . . . sign here.'" And she's nicely sarcastic. After talking about her acquaintance with Marilyn Manson, she says, "Oh, it's just an act, I like to act angry. . . . Me and Manson got together, he said, 'I'm going to act like a Satanist and you act like a brat, and everyone will pay attention to us and then we'll both say we're misunderstood and then we'll run off the edge of the earth.' "
After about an hour, she is done. "One thing," the MTV interviewer asks, "before you go. Do you have any favorite or worst Thanksgiving experiences?"
Fiona's brow furrows, and then she looks up at her sister, Amber, who is sitting just off-camera, and the two of them start laughing.
"You can't answer that," says Amber. "That's not a good question."
"We don't want to . . ." says Fiona, and the two of them laugh some more, the almost hysterical merriment of a sisterly secret.
"When they find out," Fiona says to Amber, "it's going to be really bad that we're sitting here giggling. . . . "
When she was 12, on the day before Thanksgiving, Fiona Apple was raped in the corridor outside her mother's apartment. She had walked home from school, and she figures the man must have followed her. At her building she was looking for her keys and she saw this man buzzing the buzzer, then walking outside. It seemed suspicious, so she waited until he was outside again, then ran in. He caught the door behind her. But he didn't do anything. Not yet. When she caught the elevator, she could hear him going up the stairs, stopping at each floor. That worried her.
There were three locks to open to get into the apartment. She was on the third lock when he started down the hallway toward her. Later she would remember, somewhere in her head, a weird, off-kilter thought: It's Jimi Hendrix. Maybe she was trying to imagine she was off in some strange fantasyland. The man who was not Jimi Hendrix came closer. She said she didn't have any money. He said he didn't want money. He had some kind of screwdriver or tool knife, and he told her that if she screamed, he'd kill her. She remembers letting out a sigh, and her muscles falling.
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