Here’s a clip of indie-folk violin go-to-girl, multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter Lisa Germano. It’s the heavily ironic “The Dresses Song (You Make Me Want To Wear Dresses)”, a tune taken from her 1993 disc Happiness.
Lisa Germano is a sought-after side musician, having played with artists as diverse as John Mellencamp (that’s her violin on Mellencamp’s 1987 The Lonesome Jubilee album, for one), Indigo Girls, Neil Finn, Iggy Pop, Eels, and David Bowie, among others. But apart from her work as a valued supporting player, Germano is known as a songwriter in her own right, often crafting songs and albums which trace the human experience while being both pop-accessible with adequate tonal shadows added for good measure.
There are some songs that take a couple of listens before the levels of meaning found in them are revealed. This, for me, is one of them, a song that seems to be a straight up love song about being made to feel feminine, which actually holds quite a few undercurrents about giving oneself over to be defined by another. Germano’s use of a sort of bluegrass-meets-indie-guitar jubilance is what really pulls a fast one here. I love this type of contrast, of course; a song that seems happy, but isn’t, or at least may not exclusively be in either the happy love song or the song of despair camp, but perhaps both at once.
The idea of safety and contentment in this song, being a part of someone else’s “castle”, and enjoying the experience of not having to think (“you make me think about nothing/And it feels so good like that”) in a relationship is something that one can’t help but feel is the portrait of dependence, rather than liberation. Yet, Germano doesn’t spoon-feed us. The song is still marked by a duality between the tone of the music, and the open-endedness of the lyrics. Maybe this is about a person who has found happiness. And as such, the relative nature of happiness is perhaps what’s really being discussed here as something not to be judged from the outside. Or perhaps, the exact opposite, with happiness being achieved at too high a cost.
Of course, she recorded another version of the song, which betrays more of the latter kind of darkness, just by adjusting the musical tone. Perhaps we’re meant to hold two different versions of the intent of this song with our interpretive listening brains, too ; that a song can be about being in love, and be about being doomed to allow one’s identity to be subsumed at the same time. As such, this is a song which revels in shades of grey, just as life itself does.
For more information about Lisa Germano, check out LisaGermano.com.