Natalie Merchant: Ophelia
Struggling to avoid the all too tempting lure of Romeo, and mindful also of a paucity of appropriate references to Bottom or Puck, I had to cast my mind back to GCSE English literature and school plays for inspiration. Given I only ever played the likes of Friar Francis and Falstaff, I was unlikely to ever find much joy there. But fate threw me a googly, as I watched the remake of The Picture of Dorian Gray, with his first “victim”, Sibyl Vane, the actress, playing Ophelia at Drury Lane. Of course, I thought, immediately making this a simple toss-up between the unbridled joy of Levon Helm leading the Band through their Ophelia at The Last Waltz or this. Somehow this felt more apposite, with, if no direct and overt mention of Shakespeare as source, received wisdom seeming to be that this song is using Ophelia as a metaphor for the fate and circumstance of womankind? Pretentious? I’ll come to that……
I guess I was an early acolyte of 10,000 Maniacs, their heyday coinciding with the end of a self-imposed immersion I had undertaken in nothing but traditional folk for a number of years. Their version of “Just as the Tide was a Flowing” burst through my prejudices, reawakening me to a brighter and broader palette of musics. I was lucky enough to catch them live on a subsequent tour of the UK, totally in awe of the extraordinary and unusual stylizations of Ms Merchant, coming on like a librarian on heat, full of passive-aggressive intellectual bombast. With the final encore being her solo piano emotional overload of “Verdi Cries”, I knew that something special had this way come. Ultimately her musical needs strayed beyond the conventions of US college rock, necessitating a solo career, and her subject matter exploded through unlikely scenarios and scapes, becoming ever more bleak and desolate. Pretentiousness, as alluded to above, was seldom more than a foot fall away, but somehow, just somehow, at least for me, she managed to step just shy of it.
If only she could pronounce her “R”s, or is that part of the appeal?
Guest post by Retropath2