"I was born six years before we landed on the moon," writes Alice Ripley. "Seven weeks before the Beatles landed on the Ed Sullivan show, three weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and eleven days before Christmas." On her debut album, Everything's Fine
, Alice again enters quietly into an America distracted by splashier events. In the stillness when no one else is looking, she writes the surprising poetry of the ordinary--in which shoes and steering wheels figure as largely as angels, and tragedy may be a sunny afternoon in suburbia.
"The Bradys rule," Alice sings--as well she should, since her own experience growing up, was a Brady-esque cobbling together of families. After her parents divorced and her father remarried, she found herself the middle child of eleven. Alice has joked that she didn't get her very own underwear until she left for college. Much of her writing reflects the uneasiness born of having come of age in a crowd--both loved and overlooked, unique and faceless--yearning for recognition and identity.
The voice that tells us Everything's Fine is a particularly American one, shaped by a particularly American childhood. Like many children of divorce, Alice shuttled between households, and in her case between states--the demands of her father's business forced him to move often, and the book of her growing up had chapters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana. "The transient feeling of the songs--of my life--comes from going back and forth between my mother and my dad, and their moving."
It isn't surprising that Alice's first record is characterized by restlessness--by railroad tracks, packing boxes, and yellow lines on the highway. In the lovely, achin "Drive," she makes escape her anthem:
Guess I'll drive in my wheelin' blue angel
Out of the city, into the desert, across the ocean
Guess I'll cry so unexpectedly
Until I'm dry and I can finally cease this constant motion
Alice's search for a true sense of belonging is emblematic of modern childhood. She was continually the "new kid" at school; she had a sudden, unconventional family. Her fantasies were of one day getting to ride with her father in the front seat of his car, or hear her mother acknowledge their long-ago happiness with one story, one photograph. And though it wasn't, the adults insisted everything was fine. This sense of denial is a major theme of Alice's music. In the bitterly funny "Suburbia," she tackles the forced normalcy of a middle-class neighborhood where unpleasantness is swept under the carpet:
The Stepford family lives right next door
They don't allow black-soled shoes on their hardwood floor
I've never seen them bleed, that's why I'm so sure
They're bionic to the core, every weekend at the shore in suburbia
"That was a huge identifying factor for me--and I know that I'm one of millions who experienced the same thing--the denial that there's any problem, or sickness or abuse, emotional or otherwise, or pain. My songs tell stories that people who grew up like me can relate to--you don't even have to tell them what the songs are about, because they'll know. The stories may be common. But the way they're told, lyrically and melodically, makes them worth listening to and that's what I never really got until recently, why I never made a record until now."
By the time Alice attended Kent State University, her life had taken an unusual turn: "When I was fourteen, I got a guitar and started taking guitar lessons. But I also started taking acting lessons. And theater became my church, my structure, my family, my identity. If I had practiced my guitar more, I'd have been an awesome guitar player, and I know I would have been writing songs back then. But I gave my entire heart and being to the theater. So up until relatively recently, I haven't really had the time or energy." After graduating with a degree in musical theater, Alice worked as a professional actor in San Diego and then in Nashville, where she met drummer husband Shannon Ford (who plays on Everything's Fine). They moved to New York City, where over the next ten years Alice appeared in the original Broadway casts of The Who's Tommy, Sunset Boulevard, James Joyce's The Dead, The Rocky Horror Show, and cult favorite Side Show, for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a musical.
All along, she was gatherine the material that would become Everything's Fine. After so much time in the theater, expressing other people's visions, she felt a great need to create an original self, to put forth a voice defiantly her own. While still appearing onstage in the evenings, she spent days in her apartment, writing with startling honesty about her memories of childhood and home. "I totally felt like Alice in Wonderland, squeezing through the keyhole," she says of this change. "I feel pushed and pulled and squeezed and sliced, I keep changing sizes and shapes. Trying to fit in--to me it was something I completely related to, because I was always the new kid and I was always trying to fit in anyway I could to survive." In this way she has much in common with the character she celebrates in the stirring rhythms of 'New Kid:'
The new kid walks to school along the railroad tracks
She'd like to hop a red caboose and never come back
She's got a tune in her head that nobody knows
But the train and the old black bird they know how it goes
With her work on Everything's Fine, Alice gives worth and weight to the pain of growing, the accident of living--and in her startling observations, we recognize our own perpetual intronsigence. We are always moving but never arriving; we want the moon but settle for make-believe stars on the ceiling. "I've never had more confidence about anything I've created than I do in this record," she says. "It's so purely me ... it's my baby, my soul and my heart, my flesh and my home. And I know that it's true." -- Written by Sara Hess