I think my first exposure to the term “juvenilia” was in a Sylvia Plath anthology (she did the poem “Bitter Strawberries” when she was a kid – and no, I don’t think if I were stone cold sober right now I ever would have remembered that). I know some folks are mortified when they revisit their old stuff, but I’ve always found doing so more intriguing than embarrassing. As recent forays into my old material have shown, yes, sometimes a disclaimer or two is necessary – but I like occasionally reflecting upon what made me who I am today.
A famous (infamous?) example of youthful work that is now cringe-inducing to the maker is Tori Amos’ first venture, titled after her then-band Y Kant Tori Read. It’s an absolute 80s cheese-fest in misguided/misleading packaging that nevertheless was disproportionately abused compared to comparatively cheesy outings by other artists. It can also be said to have shown infuriating glimmers of potential that would go unrealized until Little Earthquakes four years later.
I finally checked out YKTR a week ago. As evidenced by Amos’ own live performances in the years since, some of the songs are (this is an understatement) more salvageable than others given the right upcycling. I formed a special connection with “Cool on Your Island” after hearing a bootleg version from 2005, and could not resist taking a crack at it.
-There’s a lot of personal history funneled into this performance. As previously mentioned I was an unrequited love junky for a couple decades, all the while suspecting I was too smart to be acting the fool so often… but hey, that’s what addiction does. (Side note: it’s interesting for me to think of the two verses as being about two different people.)
-It fascinates me how the same lyrics can sound so drastically different based on how they are acted out, to the point that the delivery is the main determiner between inconsequence and gravitas.
-I’ve been playing around with more experimental, noisy stuff lately, and I am enjoying the interplay between that and more poppy outings like this.
-The bridge of the song, where the speaker briefly fantasizes about how the relationship could be but then exhibits a painful awareness of how it actually is/how it will ultimately end, reminds me a lot of a song I released as Alexandra Rising called “Functional Deviance.”
-Listening to her live version I picked up on a devastating combo of desperation and resilience that was completely indistinguishable in the original, and that’s what drove me to do this.
-BUT listening to the more serious version and learning how the song is put together has given me a better appreciation for it even in its more campy upbeat form.
-The “If you don’t treat me better” line coming from a female veteran of the music business is in itself pretty powerful.