Olympic Gold Dreams & the Tidal Wave

July 23, 2019 Editor’s note: Back in 2016 I started a blog, and although most of the blogs have been taken down, I am proud to say that this one still resonates with me. In honor of my album “Siren’s Song” and Fiona Apple, whom I thank on the album, I decided to bring this back and re-post. Enjoy!! xoxo

July 23, 1996 – Olympic gold dreams and the Tidal wave

Twenty years ago today, two extraordinary events happened that would change and influence the course of my life.

Let me set the premise: It was the summer of the 1996 Olympics and I was eager to watch the Magnificent Seven compete and set out to try to win the first American gold medal for the womin’s gymnastics team. On July 23, 1996, they did just that.

But it wasn’t a typical win. In the last rotation of the night, the Americans were on vault, and the Russians were on the floor exercise. Dominique Moceanu, the darling and youngest member of the team, fell on both of her vault landings. This was catastrophic, as the team was neck-in-neck with the Russian team for gold. Kerri Strug was the last athlete to vault. And on her first vault, she, like her teammate, sat down on her landing. Oh the horror!

Things were looking bad. As Strug stood up and walked to the starting line of the runway, shaking off the pain in her left ankle, there was desperation and fear visible in her face. She wanted the gold so badly. They all did. The US womin’s gymnastics team had NEVER in the history of the Olympics won a team gold medal. This was their moment to shine. This was supposed to be their year! Their turn! I imagine that all of this was going through Strug’s mind as she walked back to the starting line and got ready for her second vault. And, oh, what a vault it was.

I remember feeling like the whole world was watching this extraordinary event: People everywhere collectively stopped what they were doing and held their breath the moment Kerri Strug started running. And once she landed on one foot and threw her arms up, saluting the judges, we all knew: Our team had won! The gold was ours!

I remember clinging on to that moment of glory like it was my own. I had been taking gymnastics for years as a child, and never was I more motivated, inspired, and moved by a womin or an athlete, than when Kerri Strug ran down that runaway for her second vault, and successfully finished her Olympic career. The glory was hers alone but we all shared in it with her. That moment alone gave new meaning and significance to what Spock had said all along, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” When I saw Strug land that vault, I burst into tears. I still cry when I re-watch it. I get goosebumps and tears well up in my eyes, even though I know how it’s going to turn out. The struggle and the moment is still so real for me. It was not just a great moment in gymnastics history but one of the greatest moments in Olympic history. A defining moment of athleticism put on display by the tiniest and mightiest of athletes on the Olympic stage.

Kerri Strug was unfortunately unable to compete in further Olympic competitions for individual medals after her vaults, due to the injury she sustained in her left ankle. But it didn’t matter. She helped her team win gold. She graciously and humbly showed us all what it meant to be a team player, what it meant to sacrifice your goals for the greater good. And because of that, she will forever live on in glory. That moment changed so much for so many lives. She achieved greatness and immortality that will be hers forever. I was moved, but it was she who moved us all with her tiny 4’8 powerhouse frame and sheer determination. Anyone who saw that in real time will tell you the same.

The wave of Tidal

In another moment, on July 23, 1996, a skinny, pale, 18-year-old singer/songwriter from New York would release an album that would alter my life and completely change my approach to playing music and writing songs. It would teach me to allow myself to feel, to acknowledge who I was, and to be brutally honest and unashamed of my emotional distress and vulnerability. With her biting lyrics, intense gaze, and fearsome truths laid bare in a daring debut, Fiona Apple changed my world with Tidal. She played harsh, rhythmically-driven piano chords, sang her broken heart and shattered soul out loudly, and redefined what it meant to be a singer/songwriter.

“‘Cause I suddenly feel like a different person.” 

When I first heard Tidal, it hit me like a wave. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was slayed. “All my armour falling down, in a pile at my feet.”I was in-between in the world of adolescence; I had just finished middle school and was moving on to a high school in another district far away from everyone I had known. I was lonely, scared, and miserable with raging hormones exacerbating an already awkward, painful, and difficult situation. And then I heard Fiona Apple articulate my dilemma as she angrily growled, “Oh help me but don’t tell me to deny it!”– how many times did I wish an adult would have listened to me when I said just that! And at 18, she not only recognized it, but proclaimed it fearlessly. She innately knew and managed to articulate everything that Iwas feeling, not understanding, yet trying deeply to comprehend. She narrated my angst and did it with a bitter, biting tone. Fiona Apple burst onto the scene with a voice full of anger and vengeance that I so needed to see in a womin; in a singer, a songwriter, a piano player, in a solid, respectable musician. I was hooked. There was no going back for me. All my angst and woes were not mine alone anymore.

“I tell you how I feel but you don’t care.
I say tell me the truth but you don’t dare.
You say love is a Hell you cannot bear
And I say give me mine back and go there for all I care.”

Tidalstill remains to me her best album. Although I enjoyed her consequent albums, Tidal was brilliant, new, and vicious enough to make my bleeding young heart recover a pulse and maintain, while acknowledging the wounds and pain so deep within my soul. Maybe it was timely, coming out when I was a teenager, but there was (is) a timeless appeal to the way she sang and presented herself. She often growled, barked and spat out harsh lyrics, yet she was appealing, tender, and beautiful through each rendition – a complex juxtaposition that seemed to mirror my own growing malaise. It was a lesson I didn’t know I so desperately needed to learn.

“Give me the first taste, let it begin, heaven cannot wait forever.”

I couldn’t drown myself in her album fast enough. Even now when I hear Tidal, I not only get transported back to those difficult moments I faced, but I feel motivated to push through ever-present new problems that are unwelcome in my life but seem here to stay. “Don’t come around, I got my own hell to raise.”That is the success of Tidal – it was relevant in 1996 yet proves timeless and painfully accurate and sadly realistic today. It still has inspiring messages to us womin who have been told for centuries that our worth was only in our physical beauty and not in our words, minds, souls, thoughts, love, affection, hard-work, education, dedication, loyalty, capabilities, intelligence, wit, humor, charm, skills, experience, expertise, -need I go on?? Her frustration is every womin’s frustration. “This mind this body and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways!”The beautiful juxtaposition of Fiona Apple is that although she is physically appealing with striking features, she did not define herself by her looks like so many pop stars did (do). She had something to say, and she was going to say it, come hell or high water. She managed to convey a powerful message of hunger and yearning for more acceptance than most womin are given, and used her music to let us all know. For a 13-year-old awkward, nervous, gangly kid, that was the message I wanted to hear – I needed to know.

“Yeah, I’ll haunt the world inside you.”

As I was beginning to get cat-called and hollered at on streets because my body was changing and I was psychologically trying to catch up, Fiona Apple told me it was more than OK to be enraged, to be mad and offended, to cry, to get pissed off, and most importantly, to talk back. She understood teenage anger and moodiness associated with frustration of unrequited love, and she masterfully used that as a backdrop for creating an incredibly memorable and mind-blowing album that was unapologetically raw and real. She understood the dilemmas of whether to stay or go, yes or no, how love can ebb and flow, going between being absolutely wonderful to feeling dead inside.

“My feel for you, boy, is decaying in front of me
Like the carrion of a murdered prey
And all I want is to save you, honey
Or the strength to walk away.”

As clear as her messages are and were to me, she has been the most elusive musician for me to see live. “I’m finally growing weary of waiting.”I remember my best friend in high school bought me a ticket to see Fiona Apple open up for Jurassic Five (in one of the weirdest pairings of music groups in the history of tours). I wasn’t allowed to go because it was a school night, and forever that night will live on in infamy in my dreams. Here was my musical Goddess that I couldn’t see because it was a school night and God forbid I miss chemistry class in the morning. And, in a cruel, cruel twist of the fates, my chemistry class was canceled the next morning and I spent two hours – and the rest of my life – wondering what I had done to deserve such a brutal lesson. “You’ll say you’d never let me fall from hopes so high.”A few years later when I lived in LA, she came on tour to California, and I was only able to buy tickets to her San Diego show and went with a neighbor of mine, who was not thrilled to drive down there with me. Sadly, he was more than vocal about his unhappiness in the situation, and it was more of a babysitting gig for me than an actual enjoyable concert. When I lived in New York City and she came to town, I paid $150 cash for two tickets to a scalper, only to be informed at the door of the venue that the tickets were fake. I was crushed. Why was my biggest musical inspiration proving to be so unusually difficult to see? Was this another life lesson for me to learn? I couldn’t understand. And truth be told, I still don’t. Maybe I never will, and that’s the whole point.

“But my big secret
gonna hover over your life
gonna keep you reaching
when I’m gone like yesterday
when I’m high like heaven
when I’m strong like music…”

By far, my favorite song on the album is Shadowboxer, because, after all these years, it’s still flawless. Shadowboxerwas the lesson in showcasing blatant disregard from a once-lover while harboring feelings of woe, disappointment, and rage. Fiona Apple could be tender, intense, and cutthroat within the same line of a song, and often was. “I’ll be sure to stay wary of you, love, to save the pain of once my flame and twice my burn!” Who hasn’t felt that?? In her ironic wordplay and poetic twists, she taught me how to haunt somebody through my lyrics, and taught me to stand up again after I felt beaten down by the world around me. She gave me the strength to be enraged and unashamed of showing that all is not well. Fiona Apple showed us that ‘pretty’ was an uneven term, and alone it doesn’t work – only along with realness, raw and exposed emotions, not suppressed, bottled up feelings waiting and hoping to explode one day – does ‘pretty’ maybe hold accuracy to a womin’s description and definition. But just maybe. I learned how to not second-guess myself nor question my feelings by listening to Fiona wax poetically about her own inner conflicts. I learned to own my actions and say to someone, “I’ll let you see me,”and not be too scared to mean it. I understand the power of openness and vulnerability, which is not to be confused for simplicity or naïvety. In an age where pop music and sex appeal go hand-in-hand, Fiona Apple led the dance by daring to state through her songs, “Maybe I have some appeal. But I’m also alive and talented and have feelings and am intense and raw and unafraid to bite.” Through all my adolescent crushes, I remember finding such solace in her singing. She soothed my chaos and intensity by letting me hear her own. 

“Is that why they call me a sullen girl?”

In retrospect, perhaps I related to Tidal so quickly because I understood her intensity and recognized it in myself. “Oh, your gaze is dangerous.”Although I had (have) been told all my life to suppress it, Fiona Apple suddenly showed me how to utilize and use it to my advantage. She taught me to not be scared of myself because I feel different, because in reality, we all have these feelings. I still consider myself an intense individual, but I don’t view it as a negative quality like I used to. There’s no shame in intensity and feeling things deeply and being emotionally moved. Why is that so feared? Why should that be scary? Why is it? In spite of the fact that my intensity has isolated me from many people over the years, who see me as a liability and my intensity as a detriment to the status quo, I view it more as a powerful asset than a detractor of my personality. I can quickly recognize it in others and gladly welcome it to the conversation.

“I realize what I am now too smart to mention.”

Now, 20 years later, I still find strength in hearing Tidal, and I imagine I will for the rest of my life. Whenever I am told, “No,” from anyone, I always think to myself, “Never is a promise and you can’t afford to lie,”and smile to myself, working quickly to reassesthe situation. Who knows where I’d be, or what kind of a womin/musician/artist I’d be, without Tidal. Maybe it is the sentimentality I have attached to it and the timeliness of when it came out, but to me, Tidal is a lifelong lesson in navigating being a womin in this world. Fiona Apple taught me how to listen in a way that I haven’t heard nor seen from any artist since. She showcased her fierceness, and did it with lyrical genius and unique flair. We were introduced to her sleeping to dream, and ended up carrion, completely obliterated by the time the final, sweet chord was played at the end of that glorious album, 51 minutes and 40 seconds of bite and vulnerability all on display. 

“Does that scare you? I’ll let you run away.”

Well, Miss Apple, let me be the first to say, you have slayed us all. “Your grace has enraptured me.”If I ever get the chance to meet you (“I’m building memories on things we have not said.”), let’s hope that I won’t need a good defense, because I won’t be a sullen girl nor a criminal, but will know what to do with myself.

© 2016 Tatiana Bookbinder

July 23, 2016

“Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” – J.M. Barrie