March is Women’s History Month. In honor of the amazing women who have inspired me over the years, I will post some personal stories about those who helped make me the woman I am today. Simply because of my interests and the type of person I am drawn to, most of these women happen to be musicians, teachers or politicians. My inaugural post is on Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian folk singer-songwriter whose music, on more than one occasion, has been the soundtrack to my life in Japan.
I took this grainy picture with my cellphone three years ago on a fine spring evening in Chicago. This was my first time seeing Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian folk-rock singer, in concert. She was playing “Run,” a descriptive song about a woman running in a field at night after a death. I wanted to capture the fleeting moment, so I quickly fumbled with my cellphone to snap a picture. In retrospect, I should have just stood still and enjoyed the song, but I was too excited at the time.
I first learned about Edwards from Rolling Stone magazine, which I read constantly as a teenager. In between studying and editing the school’s newspaper The Voyager, my main hobby was listening to rock music. I taught myself the history of rock and roll, and soon Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young were just as important as anyone I read about in school. Certain singers became like my closest friends, and they influenced me just as good friends can.
In 2003, Rolling Stone listed Edwards as an emerging artist and one-to-watch, so I picked up her first album, Failer, my senior year of high school. On the cover, she is leaning against an old car, looking out at a barren field. Even without listening to the album, I was hooked. “She looks so cool,” I thought. I was just happy that she seemed like the polar opposite of Britney Spears. Turns out, the songs on Failer are even better; to me, the album is like a novel set in the Canadian wilderness.
In the single “Six O’Clock News,” Edwards calls out a lousy boyfriend who is now battling with the local police. “Peter, sweet baby, there’s just something I gotta say to you,” she sings. “Gonna have your baby this coming June.” Eight years after the song’s release, this tongue-in-cheek lyric still makes me laugh.
Most of Edwards’ songs are raunchy, funny and scary, but they are also contemplative and very melancholy. My sister Brigid made me listen closely to the “Lone Wolf,” and I am convinced that it is one of the most tragic songs I have heard. In the song, a mysterious outlaw (a “lone wolf”) knocks on a lonely woman’s (“scarecrow”) door. He is in need of shelter and finds comfort in her arms, but the love doesn’t last.
The lone wolf kissed her mouth like so many before
Scarecrow closed her eyes and then she closed the door
And the rain fell down on the tin roof when the hunters came that night
Stole all of her memories killed the wolf and all his lies
The women in Edwards’ songs may be wronged and occasionally sad, but they are never afraid to speak their mind and simply be alone for a while. Feeling unsettled is a way of life for them. Edwards’ following albums, Back to Me and Asking for Flowers, are just as poignant. She is too young to be called a “legendary” singer, but I think she has the potential to do great things, and I will follow her records for years to come.
When I moved to Japan, I found myself drawn to Edwards’ music once again, even though her most recent album was nearly two-and-half years old. Perhaps it is because she spent time as a youth in Korea (her father is a Canadian diplomat), but she seems to understand alienation, homesickness and most importantly, an urgent sense to learn so much about oneself and the world. Edwards’ music reflects these feelings, and I am thankful to have her albums accompanying me on my journey.
Listen to Edwards sing “The Lone Wolf” in the video below.