Fiona Apple wants to put an end to the Paul Thomas Anderson nostalgia

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Fiona Apple has been working on a new album for years and years. She keeps writing songs, recording those songs, then rewriting the songs and re-recording them. No one knows when the new album – possibly called Fetch the Bolt Cutters – will come out, if at all. But I’m hopeful. The New Yorker is hopeful too. To me, Fiona is my generation’s oddest songbird, but her unconventional life and vibe is not performative. She’s not a hipster, she’s not trying to get credit for being “weird.” She literally didn’t give an interview for about eight years. She spends most of her time with her dogs and her family, working in an tiny fake recording studio in a bedroom in her California home. The New Yorker spent a lot of time with her over the course of many months, and came out with one of the most definitive pieces about Fiona that I’ve ever read. She’s in her 40s now. The world has come around to her. She was the proto-Lorde and proto-Billie Eilish and all of the indie songstresses put Fiona on a pedestal as the iconoclast who inspired them. You can read the New Yorker piece here. Some highlights:

She still gives confessional interviews: “Everyone has always worried that people are taking advantage of me. Even the people who take advantage of me worry that people are taking advantage of me.”

The themes of the new album: Of the title, “Really, what it’s about is not being afraid to speak.” Another major theme was women—specifically, her struggle to “not fall in love with the women who hate me.” She described these songs as acts of confrontation with her “shadow self,” exploring questions like “Why in the past have you been so socially blind to think that you could be friends with your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend by getting her a gift?” At the time, she thought that she was being generous; now she recognized the impulse as less benign, a way of “campaigning not to be ousted.”

The 1990s in New York: Although she had only positive memories of her youthful romance with David Blaine, she was disturbed to learn that he was listed in Jeffrey Epstein’s black book. In high school, Apple was friends with Mia Farrow’s daughter Daisy Previn, and during sleepovers at Farrow’s house she used to run into Woody Allen in the kitchen. “There are all these unwritten but signed N.D.A.s all over the place,” she said, about the entertainment industry. “Because you’ll have to deal with the repercussions if you talk.”

Falling for Paul Thomas Anderson: She met Paul Thomas Anderson in 1997, during a Rolling Stone cover shoot in which she floated in a pool, her hair fanning out like Ophelia’s. She was twenty; he was twenty-seven. After she climbed out of the water, her first words to him were “Do you smoke pot?” Anderson followed her to Hawaii. (The protagonist of his film “Punch-Drunk Love” makes the same impulsive journey.) “That’s where we solidified,” she told me. “I remember going to meet him at the bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and he was laughing at me because I was marching around on what he called my ‘determined march to nowhere.’ ”

The romance with PTA wasn’t some indie fairy tale: As Apple remembers it, the romance was painful and chaotic. They snorted cocaine and gobbled Ecstasy. Apple drank, heavily. Mostly, she told me, he was coldly critical, contemptuous in a way that left her fearful and numb. Apple’s parents remember an awful night when the couple took them to dinner and were openly rude. (Apple backs this up: “We both attended that dinner as little f–kers.”) In the lobby, her mother asked Anderson why Apple was acting this way. He snapped, “Ask yourself—you made her.” Anderson had a temper. After attending the 1998 Academy Awards, he threw a chair across a room. Apple remembers telling herself, “F–k this, this is not a good relationship.” She took a cab to her dad’s house, but returned home the next day. In 2000, when she was getting treatment for O.C.D., her psychiatrist suggested that she do volunteer work with kids who had similar conditions. Apple was buoyant as Anderson drove her to an orientation at U.C.L.A.’s occupational-therapy ward, but he was fuming. He screeched up to the sidewalk, undid her seat belt, and shoved her out of his car; she fell to the ground, spilling her purse in front of some nurses she was going to be working with. At parties, he’d hiss harsh words in her ear, calling her a bad partner, while behaving sweetly on the surface; she’d tear up, which, she thinks, made her look unstable to strangers. (Anderson, through his agent, declined to comment.)

The relationship wasn’t physically abusive: Anderson didn’t hit her, Apple said. He praised her as an artist. Today, he’s in a long-term relationship with the actress Maya Rudolph, with whom he has four children. He directed the video for “Hot Knife,” in 2011; Apple said that by then she felt more able to hold her own—and she said that he might have changed. Yet the relationship had warped her early years, she said, in ways she still reckoned with. She’d never spoken poorly of him, because it didn’t seem “classy”; she wavered on whether to do so now. But she wanted to put an end to many fans’ nostalgia about their time together. “It’s a secret that keeps us connected,” she told me.

She doesn’t listen to current music: Apple told me that she didn’t listen to any modern music. She chalked this up to a fear of outside influences, but she had a tetchiness about younger songwriters, too. She had always possessed aspects of Emily Dickinson, in the poet’s “I’m Nobody” mode: pridefulness in retreat. Apple sometimes fantasized about pulling a Garbo: she’d release one final album, then disappear. But she also had something that resembled a repetition compulsion—she wanted to take all the risks of her early years, but this time have them work out right.

On addiction: Apple doesn’t consider herself an alcoholic, but for years she drank vodka alone, every night, until she passed out. When she’d walk by the freezer, she’d reach for a sip; for her, the first step toward sobriety was simply being conscious of that impulse. She had quit cocaine years earlier, after spending “one excruciating night” at Quentin Tarantino’s house, listening to him and Anderson brag. “Every addict should just get locked in a private movie theatre with Q.T. and P.T.A. on coke, and they’ll never want to do it again,” she joked. She loved getting loose on wine, but not the regret that followed.

[From The New Yorker]

There’s so much more in this piece – how she briefly dated Louis CK and thought he would own up to his predatory behavior, but she now understands that he hoodwinked her. There’s tons about her anxiety for touring and giving interviews and promoting the album, which I think is one of the big reasons why she doesn’t even want to release it. There’s a lot about how she lives now, and how she’s always surrounded by people who care about her and look out for her but don’t (and can’t) control her. But really, the big story – among many – is what she says about Paul Thomas Anderson. She’s 100% right that people have nostalgia about that time and that relationship, and I was one of them. I believe her. I believe it was messy and he was emotionally abusive and that drugs and alcohol fueled their dysfunction.

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