Monday, September 18, 2006

The joy and exquisite frustration that is KT Tunstall

Looks like I got to be hot and cold
I got to be taught and told
Got to be good as gold
But perfectly honestly
I think it would be good for me
Cause it's a hindrance to my health
I'm a stranger to myself
Miniature disasters and minor catastrophoes
Bring me to my knees
Well I must be my own master
Or a miniature disaster will be
It will be the death of me...
-KT Tunstall - Miniature Disasters

As you all well know, I'm capable of reading queer subtext into just about anything. Usually I realise I'm overanalysing as usual and I move on.

But goddammit, I just can't leave the KT Tunstall thing alone. It's gotten to the point where I can barely listen to her album, which I love, without wanting to tear my clothes off and scream in desperate frustration. And doing that sort of thing on public transit, well, it could get a girl strapped into a straight jacket with a needle full of antipsychotic fluid in her arm. And that can't happen now, cause I have to show up to teach the eager ESL kiddies on Saturday.

This is, in my humble opinion, the funniest article regarding the now-infamous "Is She Or Isn't She?" debate. Don't expect that article to be terribly scientific, but it did make me laugh, and it did make me wonder about her even more than I usually do. "Braces," for those of you outside the UK (and possibly Australia), are what we North Americans call "suspenders." Above right is what she looks like in the aforementioned cute little braces. That's adorable no matter what, but I think that such an image is also a pretty clear symbol to most people in the developed and developing worlds at the end of the 21st century. But tell me, do any of you think the rainbow is NOT a fairly obvious symbol of gay / queer / LGTB culture?

Here's another article on the same subject that's a little more, well, journalistic.

KT denies the whole thing, of course, and she says she has a boyfriend (I know better than most people that this says absolutely zero about her possible queerness), and she also claims (I think most pricelessly) that she's proud of her, "following." She also told Diva Magazine, in a rather hilarious little twist that the backing vocals on a demo of Black Horse and the Cherry Tree (which apparently went something like "pubes in the teeth.") were done as as a joke during some "drunken hijinks." How juvenile. I would never do something so ridiculous, even as a joke, but then I'm not a drunken straight girl. She's also tried to play the unspecified pronoun card, but that one's pretty obvious to me. The VAST majority of her lyrics are not full of unspecified pronouns at all -- they're full of words like SHE and HER. Like, duh. she a drunken straight girl? Maybe. A closeted bisexual? Quite possibly. A really, really repressed dyke? I'd believe it.

We don't read subtext into Shakespeare these days because, um....he was a romantic lad and a sensitive soul, and well, he did that swishy thing when he walked. Come on. None of us save the vampires were were even alive in the Elizabethan England of yore to set our gaydar on him. We analyse his writing instead, and some of those sonnets, well, they don't seem to have been written for a fair maiden. I don't give a flying fuck if he was married (though he later abandoned his much-older wife and children), because as we all well know, the lives we live for the benefit of a judgemental society are not always the ones we would choose for ourselves.

Since I am, after all, an English major, I've spent a great deal of time in and our of school doing textual analysis, and in fact I don't think you can conclude a lot of things about a writer with certainty until you actually sit down and read their writing with a sharp eye and a red pen.

Now, let's not get into the whole "fiction vs. personal narrative" debate. I realise that because PJ Harvey wrote about throwing her pain away in The River does not mean she's guilty of infanticide. She's said numerous times that she makes up stories, and her lyrics reflect her imagination and her desire to write and perform pieces of fiction. But KT has not claimed anything similar. On the contrary, she seems to see herself as something of a relationship analyst rather than a writer of fiction. She describes her own work as "kitchen table songs, like a conversation between me and the other person." (Go to for that interview) Hmm. Then there's this little gem from Black Horse and the Cherry Tree: "Well my heart knows me better than I know myself / So I'm gonna let it do all the talking." So let's assume for the purposes of this debate that she is indeed writing from her heart, even if that's a deeply conflicted and confused place indeed. And in some ways that confusion, heartache, and at times really moving despair is what makes her music so very interesting.

Even if we ignore the really obvious girl-on-girl lines on Eye to the Telescope, especially in Suddenly I See and Heal Over (that fucking song and its innuendo make me CRAZY!), there is still a helleva lot of ambiguity on the album. A lot of it surrounds questions of identity, courage, silence, and honesty, which from a strictly textual point of view says to me that the author of these words is grappling with something very scary and important that she's not quite ready to deal with.

Lines like this one, from Silent Sea, continue to puzzle me:

And when I find the controls
I'll go where I like
I'll know where I want to be
Maybe for now I'll stay right here
On a silent sea...

and this one, from Through the Dark :

How do I show all the love
Inside my heart
Well this is all new
And I'm feeling my way through the dark
And I used to talk
With honest conviction
Of how I predicted my world
I'm gonna leave it to star gazers
Tell me what your telescope says
Oh what is in store for me now?
It's coming apart...

Or this one, from Stopping the Love:

You got me looking up
Even when I'm falling down
You got me crawling out of my skin
You got me wondering why
I am underneath this big old sky
Stopping the loving getting in...

Do we even need to get into that crazy, tripped-out, ambiguous, brilliant piece of music that is Black Horse & the Cherry Tree?

Oh how I love and am eternally frustrated by these lines:

When the big black horse that looked this way,
Said hey there lady, will you marry me?
But I said no, no, no, no-no-no
I said no, no, you're not the one for me
No, no, no, no-no-no
I said no, no, you're not the one for me
And my heart had a problem, in the early hours,
So I stopped it dead for a beat or two.
But I cut some cord, and I shouldn't have done that,
And it won't forgive me after all these years
So I sent her to a place in the middle of nowhere
With a big black horse and a cherry tree....

Oh, and let it be noted that I totally understand if she's keeping her private life out of the public eye for her own reasons. Queer girl musicians tend not to sell a lot of records, either by choice or simply because there isn't a big market for that kind of music. Ani DiFranco, Lesbians on Ecstasy, Yvette Narlock, Kaia, Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch, The Butchies, Le Tigre, Janis Ian, Chicks on Speed, the list of obscure and semi-obscure queer girl music goes on and on and on. They don't possess, as my friend Max would say, a "highly marketable" image, and most of the time their reaction to such a reality is to throw society a big FUCK YOU TOO, which I suppose most of them have been doing their whole lives anyway. I think it's a shame, though, and not just because a lot of really, really dykey musicians are very talented and musically quite brilliant. But because girls like KT Tunstall are a rare breed. She has an almost unprecedented opportunity to show young girls in their 20s that you can be super-talented, beautiful, girly, and yes, queer. I'd certainly appreciate an icon like that in this big, lonely world I live in.

On the other hand, I understand why she would avoid coming out simply because of the risk of being pigeonholed (just look at the lesbian backlash that arose from Ani DiFranco's marriage to a man and her subsequent pregnancy). Joan Jett has never come out publicly either, partly I think as an entirely different brand of FUCK YOU TOO to a society who would only too happily stereotype and restrict her, and partly because, well, when it comes down to it who she sleeps with is nobody's business.

Or maybe I'm just making Mount Everest out of a tiny ridge in the sidewalk.

I think you get the picture. Analysing this has been making me a bit nutty, and I'm sorry if you were hoping for something entirely less girl-rock-fixated today.

But tell me, my readers, now that you have these lyrics in front of you -- what do you think?

Is it even fair to ponder these questions?
Do you care?
Does it matter?
What's your vote?

Speak, kitty, speak!!


by Nome at 4:02 PM
6 mews

    Welcome. This is the humble chronicle of my life & my thoughts on the world as I see it. If you know me in real life and want to keep my trust, PLEASE ASK BEFORE READING! I'm not accountable to you or to anyone else for what I say in these pages. Comments are much appreciated, but but insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please respect privacy and anonymity - nicknames or pseudonyms only. This is my space to be an adult - kids should go elsewhere. Thanks, and enjoy.

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