“If I ever write this letter
Bitter words it would contain
Just an unrequited lover
Wishing she had never
Spoken your name
Had never known your name”
— Natalie Merchant
Natalie Anne Merchant was born on this day in Jamestown, New York, USA in 1963. She is 49 years old.
Merchant is the third of four children. Although her parents never allowed their children to watch television there was always plenty of music in the house. Her mother listened to an eclectic mix of classical music, show tunes, jazz and pop music and it rubbed off on little Natalie. Merchant dropped out of high school at 16 and worked briefly at a health food store. After a stint working at a summer program for handicapped children she considered going back to school become a special education teacher.
…But that changed when she met Robert Buck in 1981 and became the lead singer for 10,000 Maniacs. The band released eight albums together: Human Conflict Number Five (1982), The Secrets of the I Ching (1983), The Wishing Chair (1985), In My Tribe (1987), Blind Man’s Zoo (1989), Hope Chest (1990), Our Time in Eden (1992) and MTV Unplugged (1993). [IMDB]
10,000 Maniacs reached its peak of popularity around 1988. They weren’t “chart driven” and never topped Billboard’s Top 100, but they had a loyal fan base, due in large part to their videos on MTV.
This was another of the off-center, non-mainstream acts that assembled a fine collection of tunes. They were often ignored by head-in-the-sand mainstream radio. But their music was refreshing as well as stimulating. Natalie Merchant certainly was the driving force behind 10,000 Maniacs.[Top Ten Songs by 10,000 Maniacs, Yahoo! Voices]
Here’s Trouble Me from Blind Man’s Zoo:
Merchant left the group shortly after the MTV Unplugged session in 1993 and began work writing and producing her first solo effort Tigerlily. The album came out in 1995 to wide acclaim. It sold over 5 million copies and earned her a spot in the top-ten lists with Carnival.
Her second release was Ophelia, with Kind and Generous, and her Live in Concert CD also sold well. In 2000 she went on the road with the alt-country band Wilco in the “American Folk Music Tour”. She produced Motherland the following year with Tell Yourself and Build a Levee. (Here’s the later performed on the David Letterman Show.)
Motherland was her last release on Elektra Records. Merchant started her own label, Myth America Records, to release 2003’s The House of Carpenter’s Daughter. The album has a mix of traditional tunes and covers of contemporary folk songs (like Richard Thompson’s Crazy Man Michael and Florence Reece’s Which Side are You On?)
In 2004 Campfire Songs, a compilation album of “popular, obscure, and unknown” 10,000 Maniac songs, was released. Merchant put out her own Retrospectivealbum the next year.
Leave Your Sleep came out in 2010. This concept album includes songs adapted from poetry about childhood.
…An ambitious double-album that draws upon multiple literary giants for inspiration. The new set, “Leave Your Sleep,” features lyrical tributes to famous poems by e.e. cummings, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson and many others throughout the course of 26 tracks. Despite the elaborate concept and overwhelming length, the album soars with gorgeous folk arrangements and Merchant’s daring creativity. [BillBoard.com]
In June of this year Leave Your Sleep became a 48 page picture book with illustrations by Barbara McClintock. The book includes a CD with 19 songs.
Merchant continues to write and perform. She will be at the Milwaukee Theatre tomorrow night. If you’re lucky enough to snag tickets… be sure to wish her a happy birthday.
Click HERE to see other upcoming Natalie Merchant Shows.