This Companion Stories Series features essays which look at my album The Work and each of its songs in detail, going behind the scenes to de-mystify what artists too often try to keep mysterious.
Listen on Spotify here.
Nero was a Roman Emperor in the first century A.D. He was apparently quite self-indulgent and a fairly terrible ruler, the enduring myth being that he played the fiddle while his city burned to the ground.
I’ve felt like that sometimes, especially in hindsight: like a relationship was burning and I was averting my eyes, fiddling away.
The relationship I sing about on Nero was the one that inspired the title of the album and many other songs on it. This man was always trying to convince me to “do the work” necessary to heal myself and fuel our relationship. He had been doing his own work for years, and he knew what it took. He knew we weren’t going to survive unless I addressed some things. But I was new to it, and I found it very difficult.
I have such special memories of meeting him. It was one of those inexplicable encounters where we clicked almost right away. I wasn’t expecting him; in fact, I was at a community yard sale when he first approached me, my table full of household items I needed to get rid of so I could move to Ireland. He was confident and coy, and unnervingly handsome. At some point he pointed to the wall behind me and asked what I thought of the photographs hanging there. They depicted a grown woman wearing a diaper, in various poses throughout her frightfully unkempt house. Frankly I thought they were shit, and I told him so. Then he proceeded to go through each one and describe its intricate possible meanings, the depths in its details and the narratives implied by the photos’ relationship to each other.
I was stunned. But eventually, as we spent the next few months together, I realized that’s just what he did. He investigated life, honoring it with his unwavering attention. He would listen to me talk about some intractable issue, then speak it back with words that explained perfectly what I actually meant. He offered solutions based on what he had been through. And he was endlessly patient, but not with my bullshit. And because I knew he was right, and because after a short while I was so fiercely in love with him, I really had no choice but to listen and to try. When truth comes home, what can you do but release? What can you do but believe?
The relationship didn’t last, but the work has. There were many reasons why we had to separate, each as tragic and as sensible as the next, but there were many more reasons why that relationship will always be more valuable to me than any amount of money. I may have felt like Nero, fiddling away through the fire, but with even greater hindsight I can say that I was burning, too. I was being, if not purified, refined and forged. I was being made into someone who could do the work, and do it for herself.
Keep up with my Companion Stories Series right here next Friday, as we go into the story behind my song Ideology.
Words are the backbone of my music. They often reference powerful ideas that strike me in my readings or develop from my life experiences. The creative expression of these ideas sometimes begs for musical form, and other times it comes out on the page. Here is a selection of my lyrics, poems, essays and other writings.