Performance Saturday, January 28, 2012 | 10 PM

Aimee Mann

Zankel Hall
From her work in the 1980s with MTV favorite ’Til Tuesday through her acclaimed solo discs Whatever and I’m With Stupid in the ’90s, Aimee Mann has always been at the forefront of contemporary songwriters, known for her clever, literate, and insightful songs.


  • Aimee Mann


  • Aimee Mann

    After originally breaking onto the music scene during the 1980s as the leader of the post-new wave pop group 'Til Tuesday, Aimee Mann has gone on to establish herself as one of the most distinguished singer-songwriters of her generation. Her successful solo career has spanned several decades, with multiple Grammy nominations, one Grammy Award, and the release of seven critically acclaimed solo albums, including the profoundly popular soundtrack for the film Magnolia, which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Song in 2000. TIME magazine has said, "Mann has the same skill that great tunesmiths like [Paul] McCartney and Neil Young have: the knack for writing simple, beautiful, instantly engaging songs," while NPR voted her one of the Top 10 Best Living Songwriters, along with McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

    Mann has been touring continuously on the heels of her most recent album, Smilers (SuperEgo Records) and is currently at work recording her eighth solo album, while also penning her first musical based upon her concept album The Forgotten Arm. Earlier this year, she was honored to perform as part of a poetry night at the White House that included President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the audience. Mann's new album, Charmer, will be released this summer.

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Medicine Wheel
Aimee Mann
Superego Records

Joan Anderman on Aimee Mann

The best singer-songwriters are sneaks. They ply us with ringing guitars, soften us up with hooks and harmonies, and slip in the syringe. The needle is filled with venom or truth serum or toxic love potion, and Aimee Mann wields it like a surgeon. Or an addict. Precise. Unflinching. Pop tunes are the medium, but lucidity is the drug, delivered by a devoted surveyor of the tangled arteries, frayed connections, and invisible fractures that fan out across the human condition.

Addiction is one of Aimee’s favorite metaphors. “You look like a perfect fit / For a girl in need of a tourniquet” goes the opening line of “Save Me,” which was integrated along with seven Aimee Mann songs in the film Magnolia. Paul Thomas Anderson says that Aimee’s music was the inspiration for the movie, and it’s no wonder. In 14 words, she sketches a damaged life and doomed relationship. Aimee brandishes a mastery of economy to put the rest of us writers on alert: This is how it’s done.

This is also how it’s done: Spend a decade as the ball in a game of record-company roulette, extricate yourself from the clutches of a corporate behemoth, take creative and financial control of your career, and become a poster girl for thoughtful artists who don’t write hit singles. Sense of humor is optional—and righteous. If you’ve seen the Portlandia episode where Aimee guest stars as herself working as a maid because the music business is going down the drain, you’ve had a taste of this sober songwriter’s surprising embrace of comedy.

Her songs are made of surprising contrasts, too. They’re cutthroat and refined, brainy and poignant, sardonic and heartfelt. I think that’s what really sends me about Aimee Mann: In her consummate craftsmanship, she’s both poet and intellectual, offering sharp analysis from a cool remove while making us feel the pain.

“Life just kind of empties out / Less a deluge than a drought / Less a giant mushroom cloud / Than an unexploded shell / Inside a cell / Of the Lennox Hotel,” she sings in “Little Bombs,” a cut from her 2005 concept album The Forgotten Arm. The album is about a troubled couple on the bumpy road to wherever it is people wind up, and Aimee is turning it into a theatrical production. It’s a logical next move for an artist endowed with the full power of words and music, and good news for the drifters, seekers, misfits, and freaks (i.e. me and you and everyone we know) who like the idea of leaving the theater humming, but also thinking and most of all marveling—with the help of a gifted tour guide—at the complicated business of living.

—Joan Anderman is working on a book and web project about creativity and aging at, and is the former pop music critic at The Boston Globe.

Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with WFUV.

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