Song Diaries: “Pristine” by Snail Mail (2018)

How Lindsey Jordan helped me find my voice when I needed it most…

Song Diaries looks back on songs and the memories they carry for the writer.

It’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m writing a few words on the music I have been loving as of late. This holiday has never meant much to me, but it’s an opportunity to promote love in all its forms, self-love included.

This month, I had a musical revelation of sorts. I found myself bored with the usual stuff I was listening to and drained out by everything around me. Putting lots of hours into my work and my writing, traveling and not being and breathing enough.

Then there’s the massive blow that was yesterday’s news about Ryan Adams’ abusive behavior toward women. He was someone I’d admired for a couple of years now as a musical force of nature.

The vivid accounts of his many victims (including Phoebe Bridgers, his ex-wife Mandy Moore and his former fiancée, Megan Butterworth) crushed me. These are women he pretended to want to uplift and help grow as musicians but only expected sexual relationships out of. As a closeted amateur singer-songwriter, I still struggle with embracing my own writing as legitimate. This only made me feel worse.

The New York Times exposé details Adams’ controlling behavior as a powerful figure in music. Moore, for example, said Adams would shame her for not playing instruments. “Real musicians” did, not her. This discouragement halted her musical career. Following the couple’s divorce, Moore jumped right back into acting. It’s no coincidence that her long absence from the spotlight coincided with her marriage to Adams.

I realized it paralleled what I’d been feeling this month in regards to being a woman learning to write her own music. I was now questioning if I have been admiring the wrong people. Don’t get me wrong, I will never stop loving Neil Young, Nick Drake, Andrew Bird, Harry Nilsson. These are many talented men who’ve influenced me to pursue a life full of music in the first place. But there is a world of women waiting to share their voices, and for so long, they have stood on the sidelines of whatever music qualifies as serious art.

I think I carried this same belief deep within me as well; that women’s art was less legitimate, less profound, less immediate.

It’s why I struggled with mu own songwriting. My creativity was blocked by my own expectations. I wanted to sound like a powerful man, not a powerless woman, a terrible subconscious link I thought I’d long passed. I’ve never liked the automatic vulnerability assigned to me in that regard. Yet I was pushing it onto other women, criticizing them for it and then complaining about the same thing happening to me.

And when it came to modern female-fronted acts, I was always queasy and didn’t know why. I admired the greatness of the women from various eras who’ve impacted music but my general appreciation of them was embarrassing and lacking.

Last year alone, Mitski’s Be The Cowboy propelled her into the indie rock canon. Ariana Grande reached a monumental peak with her vulnerable album Sweetener. Janelle Monaé, too, was at her most bold and sexual with Dirty Computer. Though to me, these were first challenging before they became refreshing and enjoyable. There was always some form of resistance there.

Which is where Snail Mail comes into the picture.

Snail Mail is the project of 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan, whose songs sound like they came out straight out of the mid-’90s.

I first heard “Pristine” along with some of the tracks on her debut album Lush last year around the time of its release. I say I heard it instead of listening to it because it’s almost like I didn’t want to like it. Like I was assessing it and not checking it out. So of course, I instantly brushed it off.

To cynics (my former self included), her dreamy lo-fi was more derivative than it was revivalist. But with her insightful lyrics and despondent yet yearning voice, Jordan’s proven she’s paying a sweet tribute to her idols while putting her own spin on it.

And if I hadn’t heard “Pristine” three weeks ago while dissociating and ogling pricey frocks at Urban Outfitters, I wouldn’t have realized this.

When I heard it at the store, I recognized it right away and couldn’t help but feel somewhat frustrated, already feeling rather morose.

“Oh, this song, and at an Urban Outfitters, no less,I condescended.

The song played louder than ever and my mind wasn’t in the best place that day. I then felt myself slipping into its skating atmospheric guitars, Jordan singing right to me.

“It is a rather simple, pretty song,” I remember thinking, beginning to feel the words she was singing.

Same night
Same humility for those that love you
Anyways, anyways
And if you do find someone better
I'll still see you in everything
Tomorrow and all the time

And I couldn’t help ask myself: “Is it weak to miss someone? To own up to what you’re feeling? To not what others define you as crush you? What you end up believing about yourself? And is it even true?”

And then chorus hit and I couldn’t believe that I’d missed out on such a moving song for months. What was I doing to myself by being so closed off to the future? To the truth?

By obsessing over dead men instead of real women sharing their struggles through art, I was depriving myself of my own genius. This and everything that makes me great as a woman and a person.

I’m reaching a place where I am no longer scared of feeling like my work (and my life) matters less than that of the men I admire and the men I coexist with. Since that day at the store, I have felt much more in control of my songwriting and have written three songs that I feel very proud of. I will be recording them and many more this summer.

To the women who have found their worth in each other and are powerfully sharing their unique perspectives every day, I say thank you.

I love you.

Don’t you like me for me?
Is there any better feeling than coming clean?
And I know myself and I'll never love anyone else
I won't love anyone else
I'll never love anyone else

Want to write about your favorite song, band or a groovy playlist you made? Dulcet Zine welcomes submissions and pitches at dulcetzine@gmail.com

Author: Pat

Patricia Cárdenas is a writer, wannabe garden mom, and 80's enthusiast from Miami. She dreams of eventually moving somewhere colder where she can wear lots of sweaters, adopt a fluffy pet, and just drink lots of rooibos tea.

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