The Forgotten Arm

Aimee Mann’s latest album is assembled like a cheap paperback romance. On the flipside of the cardboard packaging, above the track listing, a tagline reveals, “Aimee Mann’s recordings have revealed much of the secrets of the dark soul. But never has she told a tale so lonely and sad or created characters so compelled and compelling as those in…The Forgotten Arm.”

The cover of The Forgotten Arm is a ‘50s movie poster soft drawing of two identical fighters in the ring, in mid-punch embrace, grey fog surrounding. The title glows in charcoal comic font above the two heads, one face obscuring the other, muscles draped in bruised shadows. Nestled beneath the arms lies the byline in red, By Aimee Mann. With this touch, she quietly blurs the line between musician and author, between record album and chapter novel.

Open the cover, and the book unfolds, its sepia pages preceding the CD, all but recommending that you should read before listening. Comforted by the consistency of such original literary liberties, your expectations for the album soaring, you turn the pages. Like most books, The Forgotten Arm has title page, and on the flip side, copyright and dedication, “For the alcoholic and addict who still suffers.” Immediately below, a token assurance, “The characters and events portrayed in this book are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, or similar situations is coincidental,” reads like a warning to anyone who has ever felt like Aimee Mann was singing the thoughts in her head.

On the opposite page, the track listing lays out like a table of contents with chapters like “The King of the Jailhouse” and “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up Before Christmas.” Wondering what this book could be about, you reflect upon the old, trusty Aimee Mann subject of choice: relationships. You may be in a relationship, you may be single, you may be in love, or you may be falling out of love. Regardless of where you belong in this social conditioning pattern also known as pairing off exclusively two by two, Aimee Mann writes and sings of doubt, despair, and the reasons why you continue to look into another’s eyes in such a way that you feel completely naked and vulnerable.

The Forgotten Arm explores the dark ways you fight for a relationship, against yourself and against the other person. Each page turned opens another chapter state-of-mind within a romance. On the left page, a softly drawn black and white picture features either the boxer hero from the cover illustration, his blonde lover, or both together as their story unfolds. As a caption beneath each picture, a lyric is lifted from the text printed on the opposite page, providing exposition. In the eighth chapter, “Little Bombs,” for instance, the picture shows an side rear view of the boxer sprawled on a bed, staring at the ceiling as the hotel sign looms out the window. The caption reads, “Life just kind of empties out..."

Complimenting each picture on the right page, the lyrics to each song are printed storybook-style, lending the album to narrative devices rather than poetry, almost feeling like an intimate diary emanating from both sides of the relationship. The result is a compelling read, because for once, the musician’s words take priority, demanding focus before any sound waves can distract from their meaning. In true Aimee Mann fashion, these words are drenched in sadness and confusion. In Chapter Five, “I Just Can’t Get My Head Around It,” she laments wistfully, “I want to believe; but baby, I’m dry. I want to believe, but you testify. And I’ll pour the drinks like a true believer whose God never blinks, but I cannot get my head around it baby.”

When you finish the book and finally get to the music, Mann’s crisp, reassuring voice transcends the story, adding depth and tone to an already emotionally ripe narrative. The signature lush piano, unhurried drums, sidelined guitars all serve the lyrics, the songs merging seamlessly with the story. The most fascinating passages refer to the creative process within the relationship. In “I Can’t Help You Anymore,” Mann hopelessly insists, “I’ll get a pen and make a list, and give you my analysis; but I can’t write this story with a happy ending.”

In “Video,” a slow moving homage to slipping memories, she even refers beyond the book and album to the movies, observing, “It’s like a video of you playing, it’s all loops of seven-hour kisses cut with a couple near-misses.” On that note, romantically introspective, be forewarned: if you indulge in Aimee Mann’s story of The Forgotten Arm, the chapters may become the soundtrack for your own love life movie, all loops and near-misses, now playing indefinitely, no happy ending in sight.


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