Just before Natalie Merchant released Leave Your Sleep, she did a TED talk about the making of the album. She took poems about childhood from the 19th and 20th century and adapted them to music. The way Natalie spins these poems into tunes is at time sad and melancholy and silly and joyful. The first song from the album, Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, moved me to tears and I can clearly see the girl in pink riding the white horse as she sings Equestrienne. I imagine that avocado Brussels sprout ice-cream from Bleezer’s Ice-Cream has the most awful smell. The whole album is like the up and down of a carousel horse. Her Ted Talk on the two disc album is one my favorite Ted Talks. It’s a fascinating tale of how she put music to these poems and why she chose this poem or that poem, but it is all sweet because you can tell Natalie Merchant is nervous. You can hear a slight tremor and breathiness in her voice as she talks. She seems to hesitate ever so slightly as she moves around on the stage. Her voice is clear when she’s singing, but when she starts discussing the poem and the process, her demeanor changes. She seems less sure of herself.
I always had this idea of who Natalie Merchant is as a person because of her music. She left the 10,000 Maniacs because she wanted complete control over her music and she was tired of being the only girl in the band. My impression of her paints a strong, independent force of nature. I have seen Natalie Merchant in concert. I think it was the Ophelia tour. She is everything you’d hope for when going to a concert. She sounds amazing, she’s engaging and joyful to watch on stage. Most people left at the end of the concert before she could come out for the encore. Those of us who stayed, moved up to the front of the stage and when Natalie came back out on stage she made a point to great every one us. She shook hands as she moved through our small crowd and sang four more songs. I thought for a moment she was going to hug each and every one of us. The whole experience was so personal and intimate and beautiful. So years later, when I saw her TED Talk, I was surprised by her nervousness.
That’s the main reason why I chose this album as one of my top ten. Because it made her nervous to talk about it.
She had made this album that is different and unique. It is an album of vulnerability. She made herself vulnerable and in doing so, I saw this woman differently. She was proof that you can have all this talent and creativity, but still be a little fearful of what others might think of your art. As she talks, there is something in her voice that says “please like this.” which is something we all want. When you put your heart and soul into your work and then set it out there for all to see, we all want it to be met with admiration. The talk and the album moved Natalie Merchant from status of another musician I wanted to stalk as a groupie to an artist that I whole heartedly admire.
Because we’re the same.