The Eccentricities of ‘Miss America’
In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, prominent rockers were asked to name their favorite records of 1989. No. 1 on the list turned in by Cowboy Junkies singer Margo Timmins was “Miss America,” the much-heralded but little-heard debut album by Mary Margaret O’Hara, a fellow Toronto native.
In fact, the Junkies like O’Hara so much they recorded her album’s closing song, “You Will Be Loved Again,” as the capper to their own new effort. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. also had O’Hara’s record high on his Rolling Stone list as well.
Told of this approval by a jury of her peers, O’Hara’s response is typically Canadian: “Really? Good kids, eh?”
“Miss America” is essentially a lovely, lulling, spiritual album, and it includes some reasonably accessible torch balladry. It also has plenty of rough edges and, in conveying the broken-up patterns of thought, not speech, O’Hara sometimes takes her voice into irrational rants that are almost Yoko Ono-like.
“I am usually trying to jump out of my own skin,” she explains. “Not trying, though--it’s natural. You know how you can do something and your brain’s just a little bit behind? The thought of doing it is a little bit behind the action? . . . I don’t like to watch where I’m going. It could be the feeling of jazz or improvisation.”
Her record company biography describes her, tongue-in-cheek, as “no mere eccentric.” Does she tire of that tag?
“ Quirky is another good one. Eccentric? I don’t know. You don’t do it to be idiosyncratic, you do it because you have your own logic about it, and all you want to do is have the right to keep that intact. I came up with a term that wasn’t so bad. What was it? ‘Agrestic subconscious soul singer '--that’s good! But when people start calling you ‘twisted pop’ or whatever, you think, gee. . . .”