A Shameless Love Letter to Natalie Merchant

Okay, maybe not to her. But to you, about her. Which is more meaningful (and less creepy.)

There is something so mesmerizing about Natalie Merchant. Close your eyes and let her voice wash over you like a warm tide. It’s magical. It’s rich and nuanced, and alights on the ear like a lithe bird.

Don’t have her music handy? Just click here to listen while you read on. I couldn’t decide which song to pick, so I went with something that would keep you alert and engaged through my piece. It’s a little poppy, I know, but hang tight — we get to the more soulful stuff a little later:

 

Natalie Merchant was amazing with 10,000 Maniacs, starting with them when she was just 17 years old. Their early days were rough — apparently they had to sell plasma and rake leaves to get by — but I guess they got it together over time. I listened to Blind Man’s Zoo constantly in the early 1990’s. Then a dorm friend in our freshman year at university introduced me to Our Time in Eden and I made a copy of his CD onto a blank cassette tape with my dope stereo system. And I probably wore that tape out.

But it was when she went off on her own to create solo albums that her personal brilliance really came to light.  People love to be told stories, she once said. And her songs are full of stories.

I’m not really interested in writing an article on Natalie Merchant’s history or process. You can find all that online, in other people’s articles, if you are interested.

I just want to give you the opportunity to watch her sing.

To be honest, I had kind of forgotten about her, except when one of her more popular songs came on the radio or over a store music system. Then a couple weeks ago this appeared in my Facebook newsfeed: an acoustic performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. And I was mesmerized again.

She makes it seem so effortless. She has gracefully aged — but her voice hasn’t changed. It may be a little deeper, but that’s all. You can really see her brilliance in this performance. There is absolutely nothing but a few stripped-down instruments and her voice. That is all she needs.

(If you get a chance to watch this little concert all the way to the end, you get to join her in a sing-along 🙂 )

To be born with this voice — was there ever any question in her mind what her career path would be? She had considered a career in special education, but she chose music. In her song Wonder (about which she has specified that she is not speaking about herself), she sings, “They say I must be one of the wonders of God’s own creation.” And doubtless she is.

Could you imagine being her daughter? O, the lullabies she must have sung to get that child to sleep.

I looked up her photos on Google — it’s dozens and dozens of nearly identical images, with simple clothes and hair, slowly aging and changing over the years. Unpretentious. Simple. True to herself, year in and year out. Up & coming pop stars — take a lesson from this. All the costumes, makeup and stage productions are no match for the staying power of raw talent.

I love her authenticity, grace and charm.

In sweet timing to my writing of this piece, the instructor of the outdoor yoga class I took the other day played Kind and Generous as she wound down our morning, and it was a perfect peaceful end to our practice.

(wanna join us for some free hiking and yoga in the beautiful outdoors? Check out the programs of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy here and let me know you are interested)

There it is. One of my girl crushes. Thanks for tuning in.

And as a special bonus to those who read this through all the way to the end:

For anyone whose teen years mirrored mine, here is a completely random juxtaposition: Natalie Merchant performing Morrissey’s classic  “Every Day is like Sunday” on David Letterman.

 

** feature image taken from Boxx Magazine — check out their article here.

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