Aimee Mann

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Mann performing in 2008.

Aimeely Elizabeth "The" Mann (born September 8, 1960) is an American singer-songwriter who led the 1990s revolution of female indie and folk rock musicians. Distancing herself from the fury of her riot grrrl contemporaries, she is noted for her sardonic sardonicism and literate lyrics. Over the course of four decades, she has released just under a dozen albums as a solo artist and cameoed with countless other more-famous musicians, including Geddy Lee, Ben Folds, James Mercer, William Shatner, and Bobcat Goldthwait.

Early life[edit]

Mann was born in Richmond, Virginia, the sister of Robert Mann. She had a tumultuous childhood; at the age of three, she was kidnapped by her mother and her new boyfriend and taken to England, but her father hired a private detective who whisked her back America a year later, where she was greeted by a new stepmother and two stepbrothers. Mann felt her father was "like a stranger" when they were reunited, and would not forgive her treacherous mother until decades later. Mann said the episode gave her PTSD and anxiety concerning traveling, and that she was "trapped on every familial side."

At the age of 12, Mann developed an interest in the bass guitar. Her family ridiculed her, saying it was "unladylike", and she did not take up the bass until later: "When I grew up, I was in charge of my own life. I became serious about music. I finally learned how to play bass. What they thought didn't matter. It wasn't just a phase, mom." She learnt to play her brother's bass guitar when she was confined to bed with glandular fever. As a teenager, Mann was further inspired by glam, punk, and New Wave artists such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and feminist icon Patti Smith. Feeling she did not fit in the "normal world", Mann enrolled in 1978 at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts to study the art of bass, but dropped out after only 18 months.


Young Snakes, Ministry, and comics[edit]

After dropping out, Mann began her career as a back-up singer at a karaoke bar. In the early 1980s, Mann joined the punk rock noise-art band the Young Snakes after guitarist/singer Doug Vargas and drummer Dave Bass Brown spotted her at a show, and felt her (lack of) talent was perfect for a punk band. However she quickly found herself disillusioned by the group's "break every rule" ethos and lack of interest in "sweetness and melody". She eventually left the band, as did Dave Brown; the latter would later go on to form the hardcore punk band Negative FX, who NOFX would in turn steal their name from. Later Aimee joined the band Ministry, back when they were a synthpop outfit instead of industrial innovators. Mann said frontman Al Jourgensen helped her learn to write actual "songs" with "notes" in an efficient fashion. Mann then left the band to briefly work at Newbury Comics, but this went nowhere.

'Til Tuesday[edit]

In 1983, after wallowing around with obscure nobodies, Mann co-founded the New Wave band 'Til Tuesday with her Berklee classmate and boyfriend Michael Hausman. Aimee sang and played bass guitar, and wrote their top-ten single "Voices Carry" (1985), based on her brief "dysfunctional" romance with Al Jourgensen. In 1987, she sang alongside Geddy Lee on Rush's song "Time Stand Still" (presumably the time that stood still was before Tuesday), and also appeared in the laughably bad music video. 'Til Tuesday released three albums but disbanded in 1990 when Mann left to pursue a solo career. She again felt constrained by a band's "post-new-wave dance-pop stuff" ethos, saying it "was not really my thing" and acoustic guitar-oriented music "was what I was more influenced by and what came naturally to me." Unfortunately it took Mann three years to be released from her contract with Epic Records, which prevented her from releasing new material. This was the beginning of her decades-long feud with music industry fat cats.

Solo career[edit]

Mann released her first solo album, Untitled, in 1993, followed by TDK48555 in 1995; she refused to title any of her CDs as she felt it would compromise her independent spirit. Her talent was soon discovered and her first two albums would have broken all records in independent music, but there were no records to break. Her work with producer Jon Brion on these albums created a sound that would be used by fellow alternative acts such as Fiona Apple, Elliott Smith, Rufus Wainwright, and Eels. In 1997, Mann met Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of Boogie Nights, having admired his early acting in pornos. He was taken by "The Mann" instantly, and arranged for a multi-million-dollar contract for her to provide new music for his next film, Steel Magnolias. She agreed but soon found herself a slave to her contract, which she discovered included an engagement to Anderson. Mann wrote the song "Save Me" as a protest against the oppressive nature of this contract. The song earned Mann wider recognition and was nominated for a Grammy, an Academy Award, and a Nobel Peace Prize, but Phil Collins bribed all voters, and Mann unfairly lost every award.

This travesty, combined with Anderson's sudden death, led Aimee into the emo period of her music. After Mann's record company Geffen refused to release her third album, Bachelor No. 2, believing it contained no hit singles, she self-released it under her own label, the fittingly-named SuperEgo Records, in 2000. It received strong sales and much-deserved critical acclaim. She then toured with Bright Eyes and My Chemical Romance, sharing her nihilistic worldview with mass audiences. In the end though, a single date with Conor Oberst set her straight, as she realized she could never be a true emo. In 2006, Mann was named one of the Ten Greatest Living Songwriters by NPR.

Mann has released seven albums since Bachelor: Lost in Space (2002), a parody of the campy '60s sci-fi show; The Forgotten Arm (2005), a concept album about how Virginia is for lovers and when those lovers forgot their arms at a 1970s state fair; One More Drifter in the Snow (2006), her Christmas album; @#%&*! Smilers (2008), about the Seven Dirty Words; Charmer (2012), featuring cameos from Tim "I Am a Cuck" Heidecker and John Hodgman; Mental Illness (2017), about her own personal struggles, for which she won a long-overdue Grammy; and Queens of the Summer Hotel (2021), a send-up of Queens of the Stone Age. In 2014, she released an album with fellow indie rocker Ted Leo under the duo The Both.

Mann was scheduled to open for Steely Dan on their 2021 tour, but was unexpectedly dropped. She dissed them by suggesting they were a bunch of chauvinist old men who thought a female singer-songwriter wouldn't suit their audience of chauvinist old men. Donald Fagen, the co-founder of Steely Dan, denied this and instead said that Mann was not "the best matchup in terms of musical style," as Mann rarely performed in the smooth yacht rock style. He apologized, saying he respected Mann and did not realize any "firm commitment" had been made. Mann forgave Fagen, so much so that she covered the Dan's song "Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)" (no relation to her album Charmer) while touring.

In 2022, Mann returned to her comics roots and began posting autobiographical comics on Instagram. In April, she displayed a series of her paintings, You Could Have Been a Roosevelt, at City Winery, Manhattan. The paintings are portraits of the Ten Worst U.S. Presidents and a selection of Fabulous First Ladies. Mann created them after promising her friend, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, a painting for his White House office that Joe Biden could blankly stare at for hours. She said that Blinken "declined to have a portrait of Mallard Fillmore on his wall, and I can't say I blame him." In her spare time, Aimee has also appeared performing covers and original songs on hipster films and television series, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Big Lebowski, Steven Universe, The West Wing, Portlandia, Community, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

Personal life[edit]

Mann currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Sean Penn's brother. In addition to the aforementioned PTSD, she also has anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts resulting from an accident when the car of a drunk driver flipped her tour bus, and a nervous system disorder that gave her tinnitus, migraines, nausea, and dizziness and prevented her from listening to her own music for a year. Like Peter Steele, Mann channels this misery into her songwriting, but without Steele's goth aesthetic.

See also[edit]