This happens with female singers: We crowd around them, offering advice and admonishments. Britney Spears might as well be the nation’s teenage daughter gone wild, such is the clucking over her sexuality. In Apple’s case, the syndrome is compounded by her rape, when she was 12, by a stranger in her mother’s apartment building.
And yet she’s out there, hammering on the piano. There’s a fearlessness about her that’s inspiring. The title song of Extraordinary Machine is a letter to those who worry about her: “They start paying a lot of attention to me,” she shudders, “and they think they know what’s best for me. And it makes me nauseous. All I want to say is, ‘Don’t you know me, I make songs out of it, it’s okay!’ ”
Most artists demur when asked if their work is about their lives, but Apple doesn’t. She often starts songs with arcane words—folderol, stentorian, and Rubicon show up on Extraordinary Machine—before matching them with other verbal building blocks, and she treats her relationships in a similar manner. “I can access ways that I was feeling at a certain time,” she says, and “by the time I’m writing the second verse, I might be talking about a completely different person.”
In fact, she says, she might have used up all her relationships. The last song she wrote for the album was “Parting Gift,” which she calls “a song for all my ex-boyfriends, saying I love them, and thank you for all this stuff, but I think I’m finally kind of done writing about you all. All my relationships have evolved into these friendships, and it’s impossible to use them as material anymore.” Could Fiona Apple have found peace, or—God forbid—closure? Not likely.