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Fiona: The Caged Bird Sings

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"I have problems," she says, "but everybody's got problems, and I sometimes honestly have felt in my life that people have used me as a way to make themselves feel better, because I'm a very good subject to save. And sometimes I think: 'I'm not that bad off; it's really you that's making me feel like shit.' "

She's been thinking about this stuff. The first new lyric she wrote since finishing her album – for a song called "Limp" – begins:

You want to make me sick, you want to lick my wounds, don't you baby?
You want the badge of honor when you save my hide
But you're the one in the way of the day of doom, baby
If you need my shame to reclaim your pride

It's another wise, high-risk warning, as applicable to the world as to those around her. If she shares her troubles, it is to normalize them, not to offer them up as public melodrama. There is a long way to go in the Fiona Apple story. She will make more mistakes and suffer more woes. She will make strange and brave records, though they will not always seem to be the right kind of brave or the right kind of strange. Maybe she'll be thin, and maybe she'll be fat, and maybe neither of these will help make her be what she wants to be. Maybe she'll realize that it's easier just to cut her hair off . . . and then she'll see that doesn't work either.

And she'll be glad, in a way, of your attention. But, if you feel anything for Fiona Apple, think twice before adopting her as the person you worry about.

There is a rectangular tattoo at the center of Fiona Apple's lower back. The upper half says kin, the word David Blaine and she use to describe their relationship. Below, it says FHW. There were two phrases that Fiona would write everywhere at school. One was To Be Free. The other – FHW – was Fiona Has Wings.

Fiona Apple used to have this daydream fantasy. She will walk into school chapel and there will be these lumps beneath her clothes, just beginning to show. She'll stride down the center aisle and kneel in front of the altar, and all of her clothes will peel off. Her wings will show themselves. She will look at everybody - all those people who had teased her, or laughed at her, or talked behind her back about how weird she was - and then she will rise up and fly out of the building. And as she sweeps into the sky, free and triumphant, she will hear them all whispering. Many voices, but all saying the same three words; at last acknowledging, with their amazed chatter, what she always knew, and they never believed.

Fiona has wings. . . . Fiona has wings. . . . Fiona has . . .

This story is from the January 22nd, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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