I have this crystal clear memory from the Elitch Gardens amusement park in Denver. I was maybe nine or 10, the park was at its old location, and I was waiting in line for a ride called The Troika, which was that rickety thing you see at every fair you’ve ever been visited: sled-like cars rise and fall at sickening speeds around a circular track that is half darkened by some Nordic mural.
I’m barely paying attention to the ride. Instead, the song blaring over the ride’s PA system and echoing around its cave-like blue wooden canopy is pulling my attention. A despondent female vocal buoyed by these guttural electric guitar staccato notes is moaning about a lover who wants to keep their love secret: Hush hush/ Keep it down, down/ Voices carry.
I was a little bit transfixed. There was some deep mystery and pain in the music that I didn’t understand but felt drawn to. I don’t remember how I came to learn the singer’s name or the title, but from that day on, whenever I heard ‘Til Tuesday’s Voices Carry I stopped what I was doing and listened.
14 years later, I heard that despondent vocal again, sitting in a movie theater watching “Magnolia,” the Paul Thomas Anderson film with a sprawling cast of characters and storylines. One of the film’s montages gets weird when the actors begin singing along with the soundtrack. I recognize it immediately, only this time some of the mystery and some of the pain it carries make sense. It’s a grasping more than a following. Because it’s 1999, I can use the internet to find out that the ‘Til Tuesday singer is Aimee Mann. I file away the name. I don’t run out and buy the cd or anything, only mark the song and the montage as another moment where that voice broke through the haze of whatever else I was doing and made me pay attention.
It’s 18 years since “Magnolia,” 32 years since “Voices Carry.” Aimee Mann is still at it. Last month she released a new album, and I added it to my streaming music service the day it came out and have hardly stopped playing it. I always start with “Patient Zero,” because the lyric, “When you’re the guy pulling focus/ there are people who will wish you weren’t there” commands your attention just so.
Then last week “Patient Zero” was featured on Song Exploder, a terrific podcast where artists break down their songs and tell the stories behind them. It’s a gratifying listen.
I’m not an Aimee Mann superfan or anything. I am a fan of doing constantly good work over four decades that sticks with people though. I aspire to that.