Amy Rigby – Just like a woman
On the new disc, The Sugar Tree, she has gotten past the first-date stage and is more deeply involved with men. These songs simmer with lust (“Just wait ’til I get you home,” she whispers in one ear, and “Who knew angels…were so fond of taking long hot, showers” in another). But they also seethe with frustration at men who won’t stick with it long enough to have a real relationship. “How’m I gonna win you, knock you down and pin you, if you won’t hang around?” she asks one here-today-and-gone-tomorrow suitor.
These subjects — lust, love and heartbreak — are the staples of pop music, but Rigby attacks them from a must unusual angle. She’s too world-weary and wise to just give in to a man’s demands, as so many 17-year-olds do. And yet she’s still too hungry for love and excitement to give up on them, as so many 40-year-olds so. She wants it all — as Lucinda Williams once put it, a comfortable bed, warm clothes and passionate kisses — and for those of us over 35, that may be the riskiest, bravest quest of all.
“Some people do make that choice of giving up on sex and relationships,” she acknowledges, “because as you get older, it is harder. If you throw out the script of being a wife and try to define relationships as you want them to be, it’s a hell of a lot of work, because there’s no script to work from. You have to make it up as you go. You have to examine it and balance it out with everything else. You throw in children and ex-es and, oh boy, it’s hard. But with freedom comes all those choices.
“I guess I just like sex too much to be alone,” she confesses with a giggle. “I do like to be alone sometimes, but I don’t want that to be my only state. Because that’s what makes life worth living — when you do actually connect with another person. It’s no small thing; it’s everything, really.
“It’s the same with trying to make art when you’re 40 and still haven’t become famous yet. It would be easy to give up, but when you write something that you’re proud of, or when you get up and sing and feel like you made people look at things in a different way, that makes life worthwhile. It gives me something to strive for.
“The alternative would be to be more comfortable, but I’m not ready to give up.”
Romance requires sacrifice, but like most single parents her age, Rigby must constantly assess which sacrifices are legitimate and which ones aren’t. She can’t afford to sacrifice her self-respect as a feminist, and she can’t sacrifice her daughter’s needs. On the other hand, she has to take some chances and give something up to the man in her life, or she’ll never have the relationship she craves.
“I don’t know if men have that fear that women have that if you do make yourself vulnerable, you’re going to lose the command you’ve worked so hard to get,” she wonders. “During this transitional period, I want love in my life, but I’m not sure what I’m willing to give up to have it. At least I’m willing to try even if I don’t know what will happen, even if I don’t know what I really want. I’m trying to figure it out by having relationships, bad ones included. I did fall in love when I was making this record.”
This dilemma isn’t unusual, but Rigby’s ability to turn it into songs is. A key part of her talent is to go beyond the usual generalities of a situation and to find the telling detail. She grabs our attention because we’re not used to pop songs that include such real-life particulars as wet homework, thrift-store skirts with pleats, coffee beans and the morning paper. When she writes a song about hoping that an ex-lover will come back home and comes up with a line like, “Dug up my diaphragm and checked it for holes,” she doesn’t take it out just because it won’t get played on country radio (or pop radio for that matter).
“When I recorded that line about my diaphragm, I swear I saw one of the musicians blushing, as if he didn’t know where to look,” she notes. “I think my writing has changed because I’ve been playing so much live. Especially when I’m by myself with an intimate audience, I can feel people react to certain lines. I can feel their minds wandering off and then all of a sudden they’re paying attention. And it’s always those kind of details that make them pay attention.”