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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
Vanessa Carlton
Categories: Music, Utrinque Paratus

‘Be Not Nobody’

By Leigh E. Rich

Vanessa Carlton
Be Not Nobody

Journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn hated being referred to as Ernest Hemingway’s third wife—and for good reason. One of the first women to work as a war correspondent, the gutsy and talented Gellhorn began her career in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and throughout her life took risks that would have vanquished even the toughest of men.

Hiding out from both the Axis and Allied powers, she sneaked ashore during the D-Day landings at Normandy, she accompanied troops when they liberated the concentration camp at Dachau—brilliantly fictionalized in her Point of No Return—and, at the nimble age of 81, she reported on the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.

What’s more, she was the only one of Hemingway’s four wives who left him.

Barely two decades old, newcomer pianist-cum-pop star Vanessa Carlton laments in the press release of her debut album, Be Not Nobody, of being compared to femi-artists Fiona Apple and Tori Amos.

And while she makes a valid point, scoring one for the fairer sex—“You’d never hear Rage Against the Machine (being) compared to Radiohead. But if they were women, they’d be compared all the time. If you’re a girl who plays an instrument, you’re going to hear the same comparisons over and over, even though every artist has something different to say”—the Milford, Penn.-born Carlton has yet to earn the right to claim this “be not nobody” status. Though she may certainly get there.

Be Not Nobody’s lead single, “A Thousand Miles,” is not merely the catchy new tune endorsed by MTV and most every Clear Channel station around. It showcases this 21-year-old ballet dancer’s classical music upbringing and the gruff independence she acquired working as a waitress in Hell’s Kitchen at the tender age of 17.

The remainder of the album also tells of Carlton’s burgeoning talent, despite the awkward Britney-pop of “Pretty Baby” that belies her youth—with lyrics such as “Pretty baby don’t you leave me / I have been saving smiles for you”—and the not-fully-formed “Rinse,” “Paradise,” and “Prince,” which attempt but lack the edgy despair of, say, lesser-known English songstress Sheila Nicholls and her 1999 debut Brief Strop.

Perhaps making up for these weaker pieces, Carlton ends her debut on a strong note with “Twilight,” a song about parting ways with youth and naïveté: “As the sun shines through it pushes away / and pushes ahead / it fills the warmth of blue / and leaves a chill instead.”

Like “A Thousand Miles,” Carlton shows signs of coming into her own with Be Not Nobody’s “Ordinary Day,” “Twilight,” and even the bold cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.”

But until she matures, she’ll have to put up with the comparisons as she continues to prove her status as a woman who would run with the Gellhorns of the world. 

Rich, L. E. (2002, May 1). Vanessa Carlton: ‘Be Not Nobody.’ CU-Denver Advocate.

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