17. “Simplicity is Beautiful,” Juliana Hatfield

Once upon a time, there was a kid in university who was suddenly touched to his core by the music of a woman just a few years older than him. He walked around campus listening to her music on his Walkman. He was a bit of a loner. The good news about that was that it gave him a lot of time to listen to music. And the other bit of good news was that she seemed to be a bit of a loner, too. That’s part of what appealed to him about her music. But the bad news was that he hadn’t yet realized it was okay to go to concerts by himself, and he didn’t know any other fans, so he missed her when she came into Toronto that first year he’d discovered her. He saw a guy walking around campus wearing one of her tour t-shirts and immediately felt jealous because he’d probably bought it at that show. Still, he felt a kinship with him, but knew he’d probably never speak to him about her or anything else for that matter. But he had the music. And he had his writing. He wrote a story about her for his Creative Writing class, which he never really finished. The main character had her name, looked like her, worked at a flower shop for some reason and the story’s title was stolen from this song. It was truly awful.

I’m really not sure why I’ve been writing in the third person. The kid was me and the musician was Juliana Hatfield. “What? That. Is. Shocking!” I know, Imaginary Reader, the sarcasm is appreciated.

And I’ve already written about how I view Juliana Hatfield as a kindred spirit, so I’m not going to bore you with that again.

The fact is, writing about one of my two favourite songs of all time is difficult. It doesn’t actually remind me of anything in particular, other than the things I inexplicably fictionalized above.

Rather than reminding me of anything, this song transports me to the same place every time I hear it. It’s an abstract place of swirling colours, much like those that appear within the buffalo that’s featured on the album cover. It puts me in a mood. It’s a kind of mood that says, “Alright, world. For the next four minutes and 15 seconds, I don’t care about you. Not anything about you. Other than this song.”

It kind of feels like that’s what she’s doing here, too. It’s produced in such a way that it seems like she just arrived in the studio and strapped on her guitar, with that weird little strum that kicks things off. Then she says, “Hey you guys, wait.” I’ve always imagined she’s talking to her band. But why? It’s her guitar that starts off the song. She doesn’t need to catch up to anyone. I love that that doesn’t make sense. I also love the interpretation that she’s talking to us, the listener, telling us to wait, to not go away, because she has something for us to hear. And then the sigh at the 23 second mark. That’s one of my favourite things about this song. That sigh. It’s a calm sigh. It’s probably where I get that “nothing else matters” feeling from. Let’s all just exhale and give ourselves up to this for a few minutes.

See, there are all these amazingly disparate elements to this song that shouldn’t necessarily come together to make a great song. But they do. The spoken word stuff that’s almost anxious, juxtaposed with the relaxing sigh. Lyrics that are difficult to decipher despite this feeling like a ballad, which is a form that relies heavily on sappy words. For the longest time I thought the final word was “hellrim,” and that was, oddly, fine with me. (It’s actually “parent,” I believe.) Again this feels like a ballad, which usually features clear, often acoustic guitars, but the guitars couldn’t be more overdriven. The guitars sound like they’re on fire. But then there’s her trademark sweet, soft voice on top of them. And then that juxtaposed with the heavy snare, which contrasts with the melodically meandering bass line. The guitar solo in this song is too sacred for me to even analyze. It gives me chills every time I hear it. And, to be clear, this is Juliana Hatfield playing this solo, playing all the guitars. She doesn’t get nearly enough credit for that.

Sigh. Yeah, I’m pulling off a sigh just like the one at the 23 second mark. I’m giving myself up to this blog, letting go of the reality that I don’t think I’ve done a very good job of explaining why I love this song so much. Maybe I’m not a good enough writer. Maybe my feelings about this very abstract song are too abstract. But I know this: if I need to explain all this for you to get it, maybe the song isn’t for you. Which is fine. I don’t think every song is for everyone, and I don’t think this song is meant to be understood logically. I value logic in my life. But I equally value the lack of it in art.

Art doesn’t need logic; it allows you to break free from the real world, just for a little while. Art can be abstract or silly or simple. Clearly my feelings for this song are not simple. And, really, I don’t think it’s a particularly simple song. When you look at the lyrics, they certainly are simple. It’s just lists of colours, music genres and types of relative. But they all, when you think about them, suggest much bigger, more complex things.

Sure, simplicity is beautiful. But so is complexity.

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