Song of the Day: Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins, "Rabbit Fur Coat"
As mentioned in previous posts, I am old. Not geriatric by any means, or even really middle-aged if I'm being perfectly honest. But since I have dedicated most of my adulthood to pop music, I have to measure myself in pop music terms, and in that universe I am ancient. Plus, I'm at the point in my career where it's possible I don't understand a lot of what I'm supposed to be thinking about (most of the EDM revolution, to be perfectly honest), and I'm susceptible to nostalgia (the last few features I wrote for Entertainment Weekly included a long tribute to the late David Bowie, an in-the-studio dive with Weezer, and a first-person walkabout trying to figure out what Kurt Cobain's music would sound like today). Case in point: Rihanna—perhaps the most thinkpiece-worthy radio-dominating artist not named Taylor Swift—just put out a brand new album whose release was hilariously botched, and all I want to talk about is a song from 10 years ago.
Here's a thing that definitely makes me feel old: I'm at the point in my career where there are now retrospective re-releases and anniversary editions of albums I covered when they were new. It's one thing to talk about what Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire meant to me and realize that it turns 20 this year, but it's a whole other thing to look at the nostalgia coverage of a release from the mid-aughts and think, "I had conversations about those things, often with those artists, as they were happening." I confronted that reality last night at the first show on the mini-tour in celebration of Jenny Lewis' Rabbit Fur Coat, her first solo album cut with the Watson Twins that came out all the way back in 2006.
I was a pretty big fan of Lewis' band Rilo Kiley, but even though I put songs like "It's a Hit" and "I Never" on nascent iPod playlists (shout out to the 3rd generation), there was a nagging (and honestly pretentious) voice inside me that couldn't commit to Lewis because she had been a child star. I have no idea why playing video games with Fred Savage would disqualify somebody from having a thoughtful career in music, but that's how my brain worked in 2004.
Rabbit Fur Coat was a whole new ball of wax, though. I didn't know who the Watson Twins were (I still kind of don't, if I'm being frank), but the songs were undeniable, and the title track was particularly devastating. It spins the tale of Lewis' life as the breadwinner for her messed up mom, and the titular garment becomes a metaphor for her decadence and the emptiness at the center of her relationship with her daughter. When Lewis performed "Rabbit Fur Coat" at last night's show, she dismissed her band members (and the Twins) and took it on by herself, line after heartbreaking line. Perhaps it was because the show was in a church, or maybe it's just because Lewis has the sort of charisma that can't be taught, but the bangs-and-glasses crowd was hanging on every line in reverent silence. I came away wondering how Lewis manages to get through performing that song, as I get pretty choked up about it and none of that stuff happened to me.
(As an aside: For the second straight day I've picked a song to write about because of its lyrical content, despite the fact that I've always taken the stance that lyrics don't matter and I don't care about them. Could the first revelation of this project be that I'm completely full of shit?)
The rest of the show was just as amazing. On a converted altar, Lewis played through the entirety of Rabbit Fur Coat with soul-baring guile, then broke for an intermission and tacked on a mini-set of jams from her exquisite 2014 release The Voyager, plus a new song called "Red Bull & Hennessy." She remained mysterious during the Rabbit Fur Coat portion of the show, noting that she had recently seen Phish at Madison Square Garden and noticed that Trey Anastasio doesn't talk to the crowd, and she was trying to ape that approach. But Lewis is a great all-time talker, and is one of my favorite interviews. In fact, one of the best thing I've ever written was when I talked with Lewis about old school hip-hop albums she loved during the promo push for Rabbit Fur Coat. She did not rap last night, but I like knowing that deep down, Lewis still thinks of herself as Bonita Applebum.