marjorie

evermore (2020)

“marjorie” is track 13 off of Taylor’s ninth album “evermore” (2020). It is a tribute to her late grandmother Marjorie Finlay. Appropriately, “epiphany”, the 13th track on the sister album of “evermore”, “folklore“, was in part about her grandfather, Dean.

Like its sister album, “evermore” is all cathartic beauty, an album full of ghost stories and haunted houses. But the most heartbreaking moment is “marjorie,” Taylor’s tribute to her late grandmother. It’s not just the centerpiece of a stunning album. It’s a song that ties up all her favorite obsessions into a story of love, death, and grief. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone Magazine called it a new peak for her as a story-teller, with the key line, “What died didn’t stay dead.”

Taylor wrote “marjorie” with Aaron Dessner, as a tribute to her real-life grandmother Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer who passed away in 2003. When she announced the album, Taylor called it “one starring my grandmother, Marjorie, who still visits me sometimes…if only in my dreams.” She brings in Finlay’s voice at the end—when she confesses, “If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now,” we hear Marjorie’s soprano voice singing along with her. Dessner said the following on the song:

“It’s interesting, because with ‘marjorie,’ that’s a track that actually existed for a while, and you can hear elements of it behind the song ‘peace.’ This weird drone that you hear on “peace,” if you pay attention to the bridge of ‘marjorie,’ you’ll hear a little bit of that in the distance. […] In a weird way, it’s one of the most experimental songs on the album — it doesn’t sound that way, but when you pick apart the layers underneath it, it’s pretty interesting.” — Aaron Dessner

Just as “evermore” is a sister album to “folklore”, this is a sister song to “epiphany,” the stark ballad of her grandfather Dean and his World War II combat experience on Guadalcanal. Like “epiphany,” “marjorie” is placed at Track 13 — a number near to Taylor’s heart. (Are Track 13s the new Track 5s?) Dean was her father’s father, Finlay her mother’s mother. But they both inspire their granddaughter to visit some scary places creatively. They’re both songs about living with the dead as you grow older, and feeling their spirit in your bones.

Taylor made a video for “marjorie,” full of family footage. Let’s just say the lady seems right at home in front of a camera—she’s the essence of grandma realness, glammed up in her bouffant and lipstick. In one scene, she shares a piano bench with her granddaughter; Taylor is just a toddler, but Marjorie is already showing her where to place her hands on the keys. Such a powerful image, especially when you consider all the songs Taylor would go on to write with these hands.

Finlay was a classically trained virtuoso who grew up singing in her high-school choir in Mexico, Missouri. She majored in music at college, and in 1950 won a talent contest to go on the radio show, “Music With the Girls.” Her career took off in Puerto Rico, where she lived with her husband after some time in Havana. She sang with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the supper clubs of San Juan, such as Club La Concha in Condado. She also hosted her own TV show. In a news clipping from her hometown paper, as seen in the video, she says, “My Spanish was bad enough to be funny, and the audience loved it. I became a sort of straight man for the show’s M.C.”

It makes you imagine the conversations she’d have with her granddaughter as she made a life in music, the kind of life Marjorie could only dream about. But she didn’t live long enough to see her become a star. As Taylor sings, she died with “All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all for me.”

The song’s power comes from Taylor’s hushed vocal over the seething electronic pulse, a nod to Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” (It says a lot about the year we’ve had that the idea of Taylor Swift entering her Steve Reich/Terry Riley phase doesn’t even make the top thousand weirdest surprises of 2020.) Bryce Dessner orchestrated it, with vintage synths and strings, with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on background vocals. “I should have asked you questions,” Taylor sings. “I should have asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should have kept every grocery store receipt / Because every scrap of you would be taken from me.”

When you go back to “folklore” after hearing “marjorie,” it’s a whole new album, because you can hear echoes of her in the stories, like the scandalous old ladies of “mad woman” and “the last great american dynasty.” Taylor makes her small-town diva of a grandma the star she must have always wanted to be.

But “marjorie” also feels like a sister song to “mirrorball,” tapping into one of Taylor’s favorite themes: the pressure on women to be smiling super-trouper people-pleasers in ways they have to fight hard to unlearn. The story of how Finlay made to it her TV show — clowning to make her male co-star look better — gives a new resonance to “mirrorball,” especially the line, “I’ve never been a natural / All I do is try, try, try.” (Another news clipping from the hometown paper: “Her parents had always discouraged her from doing supper club work, and she accepted the engagement only after assuring them that ‘this will be very dignified.’ ”)

Source: Rolling Stone Magazine

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Never be so kind
You forget to be clever
Never be so clever
You forget to be kind

[Pre-Chorus]
And if I didn’t know better
I’d think you were talking to me now
If I didn’t know better
I’d think you were still around

[Chorus]
What died didn’t stay dead
What died didn’t stay dead
You’re alive, you’re alive in my head
What died didn’t stay dead
What died didn’t stay dead
You’re alive, so alive

[Verse 2]
Never be so politе
You forget your power
Nevеr wield such power
You forget to be polite

[Pre-Chorus]
And if I didn’t know better
I’d think you were listening to me now
If I didn’t know better
I’d think you were still around

[Chorus]
What died didn’t stay dead
What died didn’t stay dead
You’re alive, you’re alive in my head
What died didn’t stay dead
What died didn’t stay dead
You’re alive, so alive

[Bridge]
The autumn chill that wakes me up
You loved the amber skies so much
Long limbs and frozen swims
You’d always go past where our feet could touch
And I complained the whole way there
The car ride back and up the stairs
I should’ve asked you questions
I should’ve asked you how to be
Asked you to write it down for me
Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt
‘Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me
Watched as you signed your name: Marjorie
All your closets of backlogged dreams
And how you left them all to me

[Chorus]
What died didn’t stay dead
What died didn’t stay dead
You’re alive, you’re alive in my head
What died didn’t stay dead
What died didn’t stay dead
You’re alive, so alive

[Outro]
And if I didn’t know better
I’d think you were singing to me now
If I didn’t know better
I’d think you were still around
I know better
But I still feel you all around
I know better
But you’re still around

evermore by Taylor Swift (Republic Records, 2020)
General Information
Albumevermore
ReleasedDecember 11, 2020
Recorded2020
GenreAlternative
Indie Pop
Length4:18
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Aaron Dessner
ProducersAaron Dessner
Taylor Swift
EVERMORE CHRONOLOGY
long story shortmarjorieclosure
Marjorie Finlay
Marjorie Finlay
Official Lyric Video
Official Audio