Listen to this track by quirky Canadian art-pop maven Jane Siberry. It’s “Mimi On The Beach”, a breakthrough Canadian hit from her 1984 record No Borders Here. The song took off on college and alternative radio that year, bolstered by the heavy rotation of the video, made by Siberry with the help of friends.
The record yielded a couple of other hits in “Symmetry (The Way Things Have To Be)” and “I Muse Aloud”. But, for me it’s “Mimi” that made its mark, paving the way for those others.
At a point in pop history when Canadian music was beginning to find solid footing away from token Can-Con tracks on commercial radio, this song was a breath of fresh air. Siberry hit on stylistic notes from across the pop spectrum, most notably Joni Mitchell’s strong sense of narrative, with a dash of Kate Bush’s otherworldly charm.
In this song, there seems to be a cinematic quality to be found, given a striking image of a girl on a pink surf board, with accompanying parasol and picnic lunch. But, there’s a sense of dread, too.
Who is Mimi? And what was Jane Siberry trying to say about the world through her?
The scene is like something of out of Beach Blanket Bingo, although with a slightly tarnished lens. Here, the girls and guys of the jock and perfect teeth persuasion laugh at the skinny guys and pointing out a “queer” here and there. Meanwhile, a girl floats alone on a pink surf board, ready (or perhaps not!) for the waves that are to come. And maybe most interestingly, there is Siberry’s narrator; an omniscient observer, or perhaps Siberry herself placed handily into the story quite literally as the “me” who speaks to the character of Mimi directly.
And, with seven and a half minutes outlining the action, complete with an unpredictable musical shape and form, the story found here really takes hold. Part of the reason why this is, is because the song takes its time to unfold, breaking several rules of pop music immediacy while it’s at it. Yet, the changing shape of the song creates its own kind of traction.
Lyrically speaking, what you can really take away from this song is the idea of a coming change in paradigm; those laughing, and judging, on the beach, and Mimi on her pink surf board (not a yacht), away from the crowd, waiting for a wave, The Great Leveler. And is this gathering wave an ominous event, or a hopeful one? It could be both, an event upcoming that may be empowering, eventually.
But whatever it is in the end, it’s disruptive to the status quo. Civil rights, LGBT marriage equality, and many other social movements or series of events followed this pattern; frightening, uncertain, yet ultimately right. In the end, when the wave comes, it’s time to stand up.
Jane Siberry would gain great success with this record, and with the follow up The Speckless Sky. Eventually, she’d get a deal in the U.S on the Reprise label. This wouldn’t lead to massive worldwide success. Siberry would continue to follow her muse wherever it led, and largely ignoring the trends. She would have an enduring career well into this decade in any case.
Among other things along the way, she’s retained the rights to all her albums, free now to market and distribute them as she sees fit with the help of the Internet.
Talk about catching the wave!
Visit the official Jane Siberry site to find out more about this singular artist.