Amy Rigby – Just like a woman
There have been approximately 111,000 rock ‘n’ roll songs written about 17-year-old girls. Their names are “Michelle”, “Maybellene”, “Sheena”, “Sherry”, “Wendy”, “Amie”, “Carrie-Ann”, “Bernadette”, “Georgy Girl”, “Gloria”, “Little Sister”, and “Ruby Tuesday”. These girls are always pretty and eager for fun. They are unencumbered by jobs, children, or any challenge more severe than algebra. They are, above all, defined by their kissability: The singer is either happily looking forward to a first kiss or looking backward in agony at a last kiss.
But what happens to these same women 20 years later, when they are 37, not as pretty as they once were, and less inclined to play by someone else’s rules? What happens when they’re forced to work as a secretary or cashier or waitress to support the children left behind by their rock ‘n’ roll ex-husbands? What happens when every date is complicated by the quest for a babysitter?
Suddenly no one wants to write songs about them anymore. The same rock ‘n’ rollers who are unafraid to write about Satan, heroin and suicide cower before the last taboo: the fate of their ex-girlfriends.
This is why Amy Rigby is so important.
She defined the problem in one of her best songs, “Invisible”. When she introduced it last year at the Birchmere in Virginia, she said, “A lot of times I play in rock clubs and they don’t want to hear what my songs talk about — things like laundry and not making enough money playing music. They especially don’t like this song, which is about getting old and how it sucks.”
Her brown Beatle bangs hung in her eyes, and she wore black nylons in red-suede, high-heel boots. Despite this get-up, 39 years of living were etched in her round, handsome face. She chopped rock ‘n’ roll chords out of her acoustic guitar and sang, “I walked into a bar, now what was I thinking?/ Nobody asked me, ‘Honey, what are you drinking?/ I’m invisible, oh shit, I’m invisible/ Since I hit 35, what I want I gotta buy/I’m invisible.”
Rigby, now 41, has raised that veil of invisibility a wee bit by writing compelling songs about herself — and, by extension, about all women who find themselves on the far side of 35 and refuse to give up their desires for sex, love and rock ‘n’ roll. These songs are so good that they demand attention, and visibility. The mass public has thus far avoided them, but critics have praised Rigby’s first two solo albums: 1996’s Diary Of A Mod Housewife and 1998’s Middlescence. They’re likely to do the same with The Sugar Tree, due September 26 on Koch Records.
The three albums tell a story.
Diary Of A Mod Housewife describes a marriage falling apart. It was written and recorded while Rigby’s marriage to Will Rigby (former drummer for the dBs and current drummer for Steve Earle & the Dukes) was ending. While the Rigbys are on good terms now and while the songs are not strictly autobiographical, anyone who has gone through a divorce will recognize these scenes.
On “Beer & Kisses”, a twangy, steel-laced duet with John Wesley Harding, Amy describes a marriage that has turned into a routine: “Get home from work, get in a fight, sit on the couch, spend the whole night there.” On “20 Questions”, her remake of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, she confronts a husband “coming in at 3 a.m., looking several shades of green, smelling like a perfume insert from a woman’s magazine.” On the Buddy Holly-ish “Down Side Of Love”, she ponders how “That tingling feeling when you’re first holding hands gives way to dealing with a list of demands.”
Middlescence is the next chapter, the tale of a newly single mom who discovers that dating is not what it used to be. In the Lou Reed-ish “What I Need”, she describes a first date interrupted by “the gum [in] Mary’s hair” and the “laundry on the bed.” Over the funky B-3 organ on “Invisible”, she confesses, “I put some makeup on, I dress like someone half my age…I say to hell with pride, I haven’t got a thing to hide.” On the Shangri-La-ish “All I Want”, she redefines her needs: “I don’t want flowers or fancy things/I gave up on a diamond ring/I just want a little hug and a kiss from you.”