tremble clef

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lisa Loeb, "I Wish" (1999)

Four or five summers ago, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, in a suburb of Virginia, with three other adults and two kids. Tee and I had gone out there to visit friends of his, a married couple with these two great boys. We hung out at their house, ate the fantastic Indian food that she had "whipped up," went to a nursery because they wanted Tee's expert opinion about some shrub, and then, parched, ended up at the neighborhood Starbucks.

The kids, of course, weren't exhausted. The elder, who four years later would become first runner-up in the state geography bee -- no doubt you can soon see him in some indie documentary on the subject, especially if the winner is unable to perform his or her duties -- mostly kept to himself, but the younger one was quite a talker. Having finished my drink, I was playing around with the straw and ended up making some sort of crude origami thing out of it.

Interested piqued, he wanted to see it. I never pass up a chance to tease children, so I said it was all mine and refused to give it. "Bring it here!" he squealed with equal measures of delight and frustration.

"Bring it where?" I challenged.

"Here," he said.

"But it is here," I insisted, "right next to me."

"No, it's there!" he shrieked.

I moved it towards him for a second, not long enough for him to make a successful grab at it, and pointed out: "If I move it there, then it would be there; you said you wanted it here..." I said, moving it back to me, "...so here it is."

And on we went. Tee told me later how amused he was by it all. "He obviously hadn't figured it out before then," he claimed. "You could see a light go on in his head."

Lisa Loeb's brief ballad "I Wish" is from 1999, and it seems likely that its original title was "Anywhere But Here": she wrote it for the movie starring Susan Saradon and Natalie Portman, probably submitted it to the soundtrack producers who liked it, but not as much as k. d. lang's track, thereby necessitating the title change for Lisa. (Saint Etienne once jokingly observed how many b-sides suddenly appeared in 1997 with titles like "Tomorrow Never Dies/Lies/Attracts Mice" once Sheryl Crow's song was picked for the Bond movie.) It's a song about wanting to escape, although what she wants to escape from, or to, isn't entirely consistent. The poignant opening lines declare the narrator's wish for a place that she can simply remain in (as Natalie's character does, against her mother who eschews ties and always wants to be on the move): "I wish for a place, where the earth doesn't shake/If the earth won't be still, then I will." But later, it seems like what she wants is a spot where the action is: "I wish for a place, where I could go/Cause everything here moves so slow." Perhaps, then, what she wants to be away from, or where she wants to go, isn't even that crucial. She simply wants to be somewhere else.

But escape is impossible, a fact neatly summed up by the word game that the chorus plays: "Can you tell me if I'm near/To anywhere but here?" But you're always nearer here than you are there; there's no way to avoid being here. So, of course, the answer to the chorus's question is always "no." You can never be anywhere but here. Not there, nor there -- only here.

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