Fiona Apple and the horrors of OCD

by Jason Gross

8 October 2007


As part of the New Yorker festival, Fiona Apple was truly interrogated.  Usually I say that word as a euphemism for an interview but this time the term is appropriate.
The problem was with the set-up: good writer that he is, Sasha Frere-Jones happens to be a shitty interviewer.  He proved that when he interviewed KRS-One at another New Yorker panel a few years ago and let him off the hook for ignorant comments about 9-11.  This time around, he made Apple sound like a confused idiot, getting brief, non-committal answers from her about her work.  Granted that she’s going through a dry spell at the moment but during the audience’s Q&A time, they managed to get much more detailed interesting answers from her about her work. 

Worst of all, Frere-Jones seemed to make light of a psychological condition she has called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  A lot of us think we know people like this who concentrate too much on some details that annoy just about everyone around them.  But real OCD is, as Apple herself pointed out, a debilitating problem that can ruin your life.  She explained that there are days when she focuses solely on a certain shape or a certain color and has to have everything around her organized that way.  She also admitted that the time and effort that this takes eats into what could be her creative time, robbing her of being able to make new songs and more importantly, relax and enjoy her life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t quite catch her comments about whether she was now on or off medication to help with this but from what she described, it seemed that she did need this to help her cope with her life.  All of which made me wonder why Frere-Jones was trying to get cheap laughs for the small crowd there to see her.  Read up on OCD at the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation and see that it isn’t a joke at all.  Imagine if she had been talking about having a problem with alcoholism or hepatitis- that definitely wouldn’t be something to kid about and OCD shouldn’t either.

As it turns out though, Apple’s in some rarefied company.  Other OCD sufferers include Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Beethoven, Michaelangelo and Joey Ramone, all of whom made incredible artistic contributions nevertheless.  And so has Apple, as she proved during a brief unplugged set with Nickel Creek (she dubs her union with them ‘Nipples’) right after that interview.  After a lovely take on “Extraordinary Machine,” she worked herself up into a almost disturbing frenzy on “Fast As You Can,” having to calm herself down with the next song.  Even during her dry spell, she’s still got the spirit and hopefully she’ll cultivate it into more great work, fighting OCD along the way. 

Besides meds, there are support groups and therapy to help other people with this problem: see the OC Foundation link above for more info

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