Prior to 2021, I wasn’t a St. Vincent fan. I used to every now and then watch her 4AD Sessions performance of the song Surgeon, and I even thought that the song perfectly fitted my life. However, I couldn’t get past that, and I didn’t understand why since I was a big fan of artists that have certainly influenced her such as David Bowie, Björk, and Nine Inch Nails. I had been listening to a lot of 70s music from women like Betty Davis, Marianne Faithfull, and Donna Summer (I host a web radio show in which I aired special editions on these artists), and through my research, I was recommended St. Vincent’s recent album, Daddy’s Home—thank you, algorithms!
I first watched the music video for the track Down and besides being a fan of 70s music, I’m also a fan of the feminist gems from the 70s cinema vérité. It felt like I was watching a Barbara Loden flick. I was captivated by the lyrics as well. Especially by the following part:
Go get your own shit, get off of my tit
Go face your demons, check into treatment
Go flee the country, go blame your daddy
Just get far away from me
I was like “Damn Annie Clark[St Vincent’s real name], you really get me!” and that’s how her music started to grow in me. I had a bad time with a mean person, and that’s exactly what I wanted to tell them at the time I cut them off my life. Now every time I listen to this song, I feel like I’m on the top of the situation over and over and that feels so good. Besides, the song is groovy (it’s got a lot from Sly and the Family Stone) and makes you dance to it like in a Soul Train show, and times haven’t been more nostalgic since we are still isolating and missing things from old times.
‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ opens the album and chronicles a series of events in the life of a down-and-out woman who doesn’t meet society's expectations. Besides being broke, she’s rejected because she’s not a mother and is also rejected by her lover. The road is of pain, shame, and loneliness, and St. Vincent howls “I wanna be loved” in the most cathartic way possible. She builds a flawed character because, just like her, we need the reassurance of individual emotions. In the track The Laughing Man, Annie mentions the heroines of Cassevetes, in particular, Gena Rowland’s Woman Under the Influence (1974), who experiences the influences and pressures exerted by society and as times become more uncertain, we are caught thinking if we will ever meet its expectations. How not relate to the song?
I mentioned at the beginning of the article that St. Vincent is inspired by David Bowie and in Daddy’s Home, and we totally notice his Young Americans phase, especially in her performances, as well as in the Pay Your Way in Pain video, and the heavily used sitar sound. We dearly miss David Bowie, and St. Vincent is carrying on his legacy without losing her own self. The lyrics in Daddy’s Home are autobiographical, starting with the album title, which refers to her father leaving prison after almost a decade. She built a persona to tell her story and when I found out that she did that for her previous two albums, I was intrigued. According to her own words: “It’s all me, it’s all different parts of my personality.” Besides, Annie Clark has identified as gender-fluid, so incorporating the 70s culture into her music opens a wide territory for personal expression. For me, music has always been a liberating experience, and with Daddy’s Home that wouldn’t be different.
The more I watched the video, the more popular culture references came to my mind, such as the moves from Madonna in her disco era and Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. They may not be Annie’s references, but one sign that indicates that an oeuvre will become remarkable to me is when it takes me to other ones that are just as amazing.
When I heard the album’s last track, Candy Darling, I was so stocked to see that one of my favorite pop icons is still loved. I first found out about the trans actress when I saw her in Paul Morrissey’s film Flesh (1968), and in Lou Reed’s groundbreaking ballads Candy Says and Walk on the Wild Side. Candy lived only for 29 years but paved the way for trans women in popular culture. Just like St. Vincent, I’m also fascinated by her story, by how she fought for love and fame after a life of abuse and struggling with her identities. In Candy Darling, Annie sings “So, Candy Darling, I brought bodega roses for your feet” referring to the iconic photoshoot of Candy in her deathbed in which she is surrounded by roses, and she died unhappily for not being recognized as she wanted; so Annie’s tribute is deeply moving. But she is not only remembering Darling for her death. Her persona is totally inspired by Candy’s looks. Trans people were trailblazers in challenging gender norms, kicking the doors for the 70s rebellion, so it’s important that their contribution is manifested in Daddy’s Home.
Another way St. Vincent honored women trailblazers in her album is in the track ‘The Melting of the Sun’ which is probably my favorite. Like I said at the beginning of the text, I own a radio show, and it’s called Cidade das Mulheres (City of Women in English) in which I address the works of women in Arts as well as play music made by them. I also dedicate my Medium blog to talk about women, and it’s been my focus for years now. When I listened to the women cited in The Melting of the Sun, I was fascinated by St. Vincent’s reason for that:
[“The Melting Of The Sun” is] a thank you to these women who came forth and were often met with hostility and who — many years later — have made my life easier as a woman. It’s a thank you, and also an ‘I hope I didn’t let down your legacy in some way’. And I’m not putting myself in their echelon, I’m just saying that I hope that whatever I’ve done gets to make it easier for the next generation. And that I hope I didn’t slack in that respect. Because I just want to make great work. Knock on wood, my life is that simple at the moment: it just is.
It’s an incredible take on women like Marilyn Monroe, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, and Nina Simone whose stories melted the sun, in other words, subverted the order of things and there’s no way back. It’s a poetic manifesto that will echo just like another name-dropping song, Le Tigre’s Hot Topic. St. Vincent’s song is backed by black singers Lynne Fiddmont and Kenya Hathaway who add intensity to it. It’s the second-wave sisterhood tuned to our times.
After traveling back and forth in time in Daddy’s Home, I realized I was captured by St. Vincent’s glamorous time machine, and visiting her past works just made me see what a brilliant artist she is. 2021 was a tough year for me especially because of the trying-to-figure-out-where-we-go-from-here feeling, and writing and speaking about women in music from past and recent times has really motivated me to keep going, so an album like Daddy’s Home seemed to be there just for me. I embraced it and Annie’s music, and I want never to let them go.
My special radio show edition on St. Vincent can be heard here.
A Portuguese version of this article can be found here.