Fiona Apple, Unpolished
20-year-old star reflects
on rise from the upper West Side

NY Daily News    Feb 26  '98
by Jim Farber

Fiona Apple will not behave.  She understands that, should she win any of the three Grammys she's up for this week — including Best New Artist — people will expect her simply to walk up to the podium, thank some associates who helped her career, and then make herself scarce like any other artist lucky enough to be there.

Fat chance.

"There's no way I could just go up and read a whole bunch of stupid names," she says.  "No one hears that kind of stuff.  Maybe if it didn't cost any money for them to give me 30 seconds on national television, then it wouldn't be so bad.   But time is money and TV time is big money, and that's a lot of money to spend on saying something that nobody cares about.  And then I just start thinking about the money being used for more important things.  And then I just want to go, Aaarrggghhhhh!"

This happens a lot to Apple.  In fact, seldom does the 20-year-old finish a thought without erupting into some kind of dramatic yelp or rant.  When defending a video of hers that drew heat for supposedly exploiting heroin chic, Apple says, "Everyone can just get off my back!"  When discussing the kind of idealized female models most young girls look up to, she yells, "They all look so perfect it makes me go, Akkkkk!" When asked about her let-it-all-hang-out public behavior, she shrieks: "I'm a mess. A mess. A mess!"

In case you missed the point, think back to Apple's most recent award show appearance — at the MTV Video Music Awards in September.  Upon winning the trophy for Best New Artist in a Video, Apple leaned into the microphone and let loose with "This show-business world is bull----! And you shouldn't model your life [on] what you think we think is cool, and what we're wearing and what we're saying. . . . Go with yourself, go with yourself!"

The speech put Apple into the front ranks of media freakdom, moving her from being a respected music prodigy — with an acclaimed hit album, "Tidal," released by age 19 — to a public loose cannon.  The singer knows this works to her PR advantage.  "I've done things that can be made fun of," she says.   "It's not such a bad thing."

In fact, Apple has fashioned her career as one long, loopy confessional, filled with open talk about her rape at age 12 and about the nearly half of her life she has spent in psychotherapy.  She presents herself as a nexus of contradictions and missteps, groping toward truth.  As she explains it:  "If I'm going to end up a role model, then I'd rather not end up being the kind of role model that pretends to be perfect, and pretends that she always has the right thing to say.  I'm a product of role models that didn't make me feel like I was as good as them."

But in terms of her business career, Apple has barely made a boo-boo.  At the sweet age of 18, she gave a demo tape of her music to a friend who baby-sat for influential music publicist Kathy Schenker.  Impressed, the publicist played the tape for manager Andrew Slater, who instantly signed Apple to his HK Management company — which also handles artists like Lenny Kravitz and Mick Jagger.  Slater quickly got her a deal with the emerging Work Group label (distributed by Sony), which threw all its marketing clout behind her.

Slater, who also produces The Wallflowers, oversaw Apple's debut album in late '95.   The resulting "Tidal" album, which appeared in '96, offered an unusually assured rash of jazzy ballads highlighted by Apple's voice — an instrument smoky and sophisticated enough to suggest a young Nina Simone.  It seemed nearly impossible that the bony waif pictured on the album's cover could have made a record so mature.  The improbable mix earned Apple great reviews and made her a media curiosity.  Slowly her album moved up the charts, selling more than 2 million copies and counting.

Apple says she has no sense of her subsequent power.  "People ask me, 'How do you feel about being on the cover of a magazine?'  I don't know.  I don't go to newsstands.  I've been traveling on a bus.  It's like I've been in summer camp since this began.  I don't live in the real world."

In fact, she lives in L.A.  Apple just bought a place in the city, which she hasn't furnished.  She seldom goes out.  She doesn't have a driver's license.  "I just sit here in my empty house and make stupid collages and draw and listen to music," she says.

That's not much different from how she spent her time growing up, on Manhattan's upper West Side.  Her father, Brandon Maggart, is an actor.  Her mother, Diane McAfee, who used to sing and dance, recently graduated from culinary school.  Apple's parents divorced when she was 4.  The singer, who uses her given first and middle names, spent most of her time with her mother in New York while Dad lived in L.A.  But Apple rejects one stereotype the media have assigned to her, as a therapy-going, super-arty upper West Sider.  "Therapy territory is more like W. 65th St.," she says.   "I grew up on 123d St." As for the artsy-fartsy tag, she says, "It's okay if I'm artsy because I'm talented."

Apple likewise bristles at the charge that she brings up her rape in every interview.   The now-famous incident was perpetrated by a stranger in the hallway of the building where she lived with her mother.  It comes up "because people ask me about it every time," she says.  "When I was first asked about it, it was relevant because people asked me about the lyrics to the song 'Sullen Girl.'  If I were to lie and say this was about a boyfriend, what would that say about how I feel about having been raped?  I'm not going to hide it!"

Apple has drawn even more attention to herself with her loose-lipped stage antics.   While her music couldn't be more brooding, she's goofy in her stage patter — and proud of it.  "I'm not going to get into f---ing character between songs.   Or cry onstage.  Or tell everybody to talk to me about their inner child.   I did a show once and somebody said to me, 'You go up there and the way you talk is so confusing.  Your songs are so mature, but when you talk, you're like a kid.'   I got really [ticked] off.  Can't I decide anything in my life?"

There she goes again, getting testy.  Or maybe she's just being honest.   That's certainly the way she views it.  For Fiona Apple, blathering in public isn't the usual Courtney Love-style "I'm-so-out-of-control and-aren't-you-fascinated?" device for getting attention.  It's her way to break the hard shell of pop stardom, and fulfill the greatest teenage dream — to, at last, be yourself.

"I could talk to you for hours," she says, "and I would not reveal anything of myself because I'd be afraid that you'd think I'm a mess.  But I am a mess and you're a mess, too. Everyone's a mess. Which means, actually, that no one's a mess.  Know what I mean?"  fin