Song of the Day #482: ‘I’ve Had It’ – Aimee Mann

whateverDue to a dispute with her ‘Til Tuesday label, it took five years for Aimee Mann to release her first solo album, Whatever. Her new label, Imago, then promptly fell into financial crisis and dissolved. As a result, Whatever received very little promotion and sold very few copies.

That’s a shame because it’s a fine album, a big step up from her work with ‘Til Tuesday. I included one of its songs, ‘Fourth of July,’ on the blog more than a year ago and it remains one of the best songs I’ve featured here.

Today’s song, ‘I’ve Had It,’ shows up at the end of the album and it’s one of the highlights. It’s a beautiful piece of music, masterfully blending acoustic guitar, piano, percussion and vocals into a hypnotic mix.

The song covers the experience of a young band on the road. In Nick Hornby’s Songbook, a collection of essays about songs he loves, he wonders whether the music or lyrics came to Mann first. If it was the music, he wondered why she chose to match this fabulous melody with lyrics about about her job. And if was the lyrics, he wondered why writing about her job would inspire such fabulous music. I guess he felt a song this good was worthy of more meaningful subject matter.

I don’t see it that way. On the one hand, why not write great music about your job? It beats writing bad music about your job, or mediocre music about something more profound than your job. And on the other hand, I think this song is about more than some touring musicians… it’s about the way you fall into doing what you’re supposed to do for the rest of your life, and how easy it is to miss that.

I think she sums it up quite nicely in the bridge: “Like most amazing things, it’s easy to miss and easy to mistake. For when things are really great it just means everything’s in its place.”

We made it down to New York
With everything intact
But as for getting back…
It was Boo who made the joke,
They don’t give you any hope
But they’ll leave you plenty of rope

And Dan came in from Jersey
He went to get the drums
And if Buddy ever comes
We can get it off the ground
I hope someone’s coming down
Else I can’t see hanging around

Oh, experience is cheap
If that’s the company you keep
And a chance is all that I need
And I’ve had it

So we all just started playing
And then something strange occurred
Not a person stirred
Oh, it started out one way
But it turned out to be okay
And I felt somebody should say

Oh, experience is cheap
If that’s the company you keep
And before you know that it’s free
You’ve had it

Like most amazing things
It’s easy to miss and easy to mistake
For when things are really great
It just means everything’s in its place

When everything was over
And we loaded up the van
I turned and said to Dan,
Dan, I guess this is our prime
Like they tell us all the time
Were you expecting some other kind?

Oh, experience is cheap
If that’s the company you keep
And I’ll never get that disease
‘Cause I’ve had it

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #482: ‘I’ve Had It’ – Aimee Mann

  1. Amy says:

    I see Hornby’s point, in as much as the details of her work life are so non-specific and mundane that they don’t paint a vivid picture as they do in songs by Fountains of Wayne, so she neither says something profound or perfectly simple (and, therefore, profound). Instead, it’s just all a bit vague. If this was a student’s composition, I’d send her back for a rewrite 😉

    That said, I love the bridge you cite and think it comes close to making the whole song work. After all, for Horby to bother devoting space to talking about the song at all something about it must have made an impression on him.

  2. Clay says:

    Here’s the Hornby essay. How cool that you can just find a passage from a book online this easily!

  3. Dana says:

    Neither you nor Hornby mention this, but don’t you see this as a summary of her life with Til Tueday? This notion of gong through the motions and grind of performing your music because that’s “what you do” and that’s what you love, with the hope but not necessarily the realistic expectation that you will capture lightening in a bottle.

    But then it happens, and you are going through the same process you have been doing for years, traveling from town to town, setting up and breaking down equipment, doing the “work” of making music, except that now it all means so much more because of the impact you are having upon others. So now the musician/band must both be conscious of the seemingly more mundane details of their work (making sure one of the band members shows up, whether the mikes will work, etc) and, at the same time, recognizing and, hopefully, appreciating while it is happening, the magic that is being made as a result of that work.

    It seems to me that Mann is looking back and reflecting on the convergence of both of those experiences and trying to put them in some kind of context. I think she is also recognizing, after the breakup of her band, the lack of success of their third album, the fighting with the record company and the less commercial music she was intentionally starting to make, that she will never have that level of popularitiy again. And she is okay with that, because she has already lived through that experience of commercial success and she doesn’t need more of the same to appreciate what she had and what she now wants. To me, when viewed in that context, the song is quite profound, and the music is quite deserving of the accompanying lyrics.

    Oh, and as for the music vs. lyrics first discussion, this feels to me like a song where Mann sat down with either her piano or guitar and basically started playing the tune, with the lyrics flowing right behind. Much of her music sounds that way to me, and I would be curious to know if she has ever talked about her songwriting process.

  4. Clay says:

    Wow… I think you hit it right on the head. The “I’ve had it” is an acknowledgment that she’s tasted that sort of success and is content with moving on to try different things even if it means giving up the chance to be huge.

    As for her songwriting process, I found this quote that backs up your guess (you’re on a roll!):

    “To me, the music part suggests the mood, and then the mood suggests the story together with the mood. It’s mostly sort of trying to think like, what’s the dynamic of the story that makes sense with this feeling? And I always try to relate it to my own life, and sometimes there are specific things that I want to write about, or specific people, or an idea.”

  5. Dana says:

    I guess I can no longer keep a secret the fact that I will be publishing a biography on Mann’s life and work next year:)

  6. Richard says:

    An excellent song that never seems to have gotten the credit it deserves. Success in any endeavor means paying attention to the details and a lot of hard work. It also requires taking chances and it is heavily influenced by the “company you keep.” Company that you may not have much control over. By describing these details in the context of a band that has a shaky start but achieves success, the song writer moves the listener from mundane details to an awareness of something greater than the sum of the parts. Of course, there is vagueness as that is the way life is. We find our meaning after we’ve “loaded up the van” so to speak and can look back.

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