Copyright 1999 Hachette Fillipacchi
Length: 595 words
Headline: Stealing Magnolia: Ironic rocker Aimee Mann makes off with a new movie-- and a new attitude
Byline: Fred Shruers
Ironic rocker Aimee Mann makes off with a new movie-- and a new attitude
Back in 1985, she was the walking portait of urban angst-- bone skinny, with a thin blond braid, shaking her fist in anguish over an uncommunicative lover in `Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry." But, Aimee Mann recalls, "when we were supposedly so rich and famous, we were driving our own van with the leaking air conditioner, living on $150 a week and staying at hooker hotels."
Cut to the present-day Mann, still lean with a model's carriage and cheekbones, playing acoustic guitar with a small combo in Hollywood's rock cabaret, Largo. The jam-packed crowd of cognoscenti laugh knowingly as she brings on comedian pals to supply what she calls "witty banter." They come not hear old hits like "Voices Carry" (whose lyrics she now calls "dopey"), or even her 1995 single from I'm With Stupid, "That's Just What You Are," but to hear Mann work her lovely if quavering alto through such delicate fare as "Just Like Anyone," a hushed, minute-plus elegy for the late, doomed Jeff Buckley.
Chances are that filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is somewhere in the dark shoebox of a club, drinking up inspiration. Mann's seven songs comprise most of the soundtrack to Anderson's new film Magnolia, and one, "Wise Up," virtually takes over a reel late in the movie, as a complex web of characters including those played by Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore sing her song in turn. "Paul kept sort of warning me:'You have no idea what this is going to be,'" Mann says. "When I read it in the script, I was just aghast. I couldn't imagine how it would work and not seem corny-- but it's very moving."
As Anderson wrote his screenplay, he was privy to his friend Mann's composing process. (Her husband, Michael Penn, scored Anderson's first two films, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights.) In songs like "Save Me" (with its lyric "You look like the perfect fit/ For a girl in need of a tourniquet"), he heard themes of emotional dislocation, wryly but plainly put, that resonated strongly for him. "That neck of the woods is just her terrain," says Anderson, "and what was happening in my life was stuff that was reflected by Aimee's songs. So, I thought, I'd best rip her off."
Mann, thirty-nine, epitomizes the virtuous underbelly of the Los Angeles rock scene. She's clearly found a soul-mate in Penn and voices her various jibes with a sly smile that hints she's not so tough undeneath. In changing labels three times, she's become the singing poster girl for artists who follow their muse against the commercial will of their record labels.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, to an adman/painter father a social-worker mother, Mann played in garage bands as a schoolgirl, and while at Boston's Berklee School of Music, started a group called The Young Snakes (album title: Bark Along With the Young Snakes) before forming `Til Tuesday. Though she's had all the fame she cares to have ("People following you around creates a physiological response like being threatened," she says), she's grateful for Anderson's "astonishing" fandom, which has helped her songs shoulder their way into the mainstream. "No matter how much she tries to stop her success," says Anderson, "it's going to happen."
Not long after the Magnolia soundtrack leaves the gate, Mann will release Bachelor No. 2 on her own SuperEgo label. "There's a lot to be said," Mann concludes with he usual mix of defiance and self-deprecation, "for making your own mistakes instead of having people make them for you."