A few weeks back I finally caved and bought a new turntable. Technically I had a working one, but it’s one of those ones that needs to be part of a room full of hi-fi equipment to work correctly and I haven’t hooked it up in forever. So I got a little cheap number with built-in speakers to play in my room.
It’s not that I’m super hipster or anything, but I do really believe that music sounds better in analogue. Plus there is something soothing about the process of playing vinyl. The ritual of placing it on the turntable and cleaning it, then dropping the needle and listening to a little hissing white noise before the music springs to life is all weirdly therapeutic for me.
So now that I have a working turntable, I’ve been poking around all the used album shops I used to love in college. Last weekend I was about to pay for my Linda Ronstadt Heart Like a Wheel and leave when I spotted an album I knew I couldn’t leave without. Without even looking at the price, I picked it up and headed to the counter.*
I first heard Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels when I was twelve. While other kids my age all seemed to be listening to the top 20 pop hits, I spent a lot of time combing my parents music collection for deep tracks by artists like Lindsey Buckingham and Rodney Crowell. I didn’t find this one on my own, though. It was my father who first played it for me. Specifically he played “Beautiful Red Dress” for me, because he said the song reminded him of me.
Now, I am pretty sure that my father who can barely say the word “tampon” didn’t realize that he had just played his pubescent daughter an anthem about feeling powerful while on your period, but he was spot on with realizing that I needed to listen to that song. And so as I played this album for the first time, I went to side B first and smiled as the first sultry saxophone notes filled my bedroom.
It’s odd the way music can take you back to the first time you heard it. I was pretty miserable back then. I was bullied. I was nerdy with no fellow nerds to share my interests in my small parochial school. I was awkward and didn’t know how to deal with it. I was the daughter of a blue collar worker in a white collar neighborhood. And on top of all that kids in middle school tend to be cruel by nature, because we were all a mass of seething insecurities lashing out at each other as we struggled to figure ourselves out. But there was something very comforting about having Laurie Anderson tell me, “Girls, we can make it, and if we can’t we’re gonna fake it.” This was long before I really discovered feminism, but I knew being a girl was part of my problem. And here in musical form was affirmation that being a girl was awesome. Not in some vague “Go Girl Power!” sort of way, but in a very real, “being a girl is hard, but we are strong enough to overcome.”
It’s not like this song was some sort of panacea that made me realize I could solve all my problems and stop being bullied and sunshine, kittens, and rainbows or anything. I kept right on being bullied and miserable until I hit high school and got to change schools. Still, at the end of the day, it was good to come home and have music that was about the world being awful and feeling awesome about yourself anyway, just to spite world if nothing else. Listening to this song now, knowing all the things I didn’t know then I do pick up on layers in the song that weren’t apparent to me at 12, but still sometimes that is all I need out of that song. Because I have a beautiful red dress and you would look really good standing beside it.
*It ended up only being $8.50, so bargain.