FFWDing to the Best Part: “Kid Fears,” Indigo Girls (1989)

Been awhile. But I was inspired by one of my favorite new podcasts, Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs (MASTAS) to revisit the inaugural (major label) work of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, the self-titled Indigo Girls album. (Strange Fire technically came out first, but no one was really paying attention.)

When this record was released, I was a freshman at an all-girls’ school, living in the southeast U.S., a mere 3 hours from Athens, Georgia, out of which R.E.M. and the B-52’s had already come and in which a slew of folksy acts was incubating. (In addition to the Girls, Widespread Panic, Matthew Sweet,  Drive-By Truckers, the confounding Neutral Milk Hotel, and many other acts found their start here.) And still, I had to find out about this act from dear old Dad. Go figure. But no matter.

Everyone knows “Closer to Fine,” of course, and everyone should because it’s darn-near perfect. But I was always slightly more partial to “Kid Fears,” and not because I’m particularly fond of Michael Stipe (I mean, he’s [closer to] fine, but his presence wouldn’t automatically boost a song’s cred in my eyes and ears.)

First, the lyrical motif of the song resonated with me then (stupidly, as my fears in 1989 were of the kid variety) and now: What would you give for your kid fears? Ummm, instead of obsessing about expensive drywall repair, client meetings, and North Korea, I’d stress about having the right clothes from The Limited? Deal.

But as always, it’s the music that really brings this one home, particularly the three-part harmony once Mr. Stipe enters the picture. As a failed high school show choir nerd type (I guess I was a success on the “nerd” front), even when I’m listening to this song alone, I feel like I can only sing my favorite part of the harmony the first go-around; once it refrains, I need to save that part for the nonexistent other people in the car or shower. 

The song is 4:34 in length, and Stipe enters at the 2:30 mark, and from there on out (so nearly half of the song), it’s a vocal tour de force. More than just harmony, it’s a modern-day fugue (round?), with complementary yet distinct lyrical and musical themes. At 2:42, Stipe erupts from mellowness to full-on passion to deliver the “Replace, the rent [which for 25+ years I thought said rain] with the stars above” portion (a/k/a my favorite).

And because Stipe, like a show choir geek himself, wants to spread the wealth, he bumps it to soprano Emily to pick up the “Are you on fire…” baton for the subsequent refrains. If I had to pick the best of the best parts, I’d opt for 3:30 – 3:37, where all three voices collide and culminate into a crescendo, Emily’s pained “the ones that you love, ones that you love” tying a bow on the whole beautiful thing. It continues on from there for a bit to its eerie conclusion.

But I’m rusty. I’m not doing it justice. Just take a listen.