I had no inkling of who Sarah Jaffe was when I clicked on a link to ‘Clementine’ (it was a recommended video on my Youtube account), enticed by the unusual song title and the accompanying image (a girl with fiery red hair blowing into her face, standing on a dock).
The opening beats and guitar strings hummed, quickly establishing the track’s folk, roots rock and indie pop influences. There are some tracks that slowly grow on you, and some that arrest you immediately. In this case, I was instantly attentive once Sarah’s started singing. It’s not only her voice – which Paste Magazine describes as “powerful but restrained like deep water behind the dam” – but also her lyricism that drew me in and kept me listening:
50 crying all the time's
50 I'm gonna change my mind's
I changed my mind
I changed my mind
Now I feel indifferent’
‘Clementine’ seems to be charting the emotional landscape of heartbreak, with Sarah opening references to ‘boys’, ‘crying’ and ‘lines’ (taken out of context, this might seem like lyrics to a Taylor Swift or Adele song). There is lyrical ambiguity, however, with the combination of the slow, drawn out revelation (the music dies down here) ‘I wish I was a little more delicate’, followed by the musical build-up accompanying the anguished and determined declaration ‘I wish my/ I wish my/ I wish my/ I wish my/ I wish my name was Clementine’.
And what’s in the name? This confounded me for a while, but my initial intuition that ‘Clementine’ was somehow synonymous with ‘being more delicate’ seems to be right. Trusty Wikipedia reveals that clementines are very similar to mandarin oranges, are ‘almost always seedless’, are easier to peel and are sweeter and less acidic than your typical orange. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the diction of the song here, but it appears that the lyrics reveal the female speaker’s anguished (and perhaps self-conflicting) desire to be more traditionally and stereotypically feminine. It is worth noting that it’s the speaker who seems to have deserted the relationship(s): ‘I changed my mind/ Now I feel indifferent’ and decided that it is now unequivocally time to move on and let go of the past: ‘All that time/ Wasted’.
The song presents this intriguing combination of emotive soulfulness and a stable (dare I say macho?) sense of self, which makes for a very compelling listening experience. I later found the official music video for the song, which seems to symbolically echo Sarah’s post-separation emotional cleansing and revival. She stands alone in an unusual hooded bright yellow dress on a bright and grassy Texan plain, and five strapping suspender-clad men try to rope her in. Sarah gets dramatically blown far away by the wind, is rescued by the five men and then brought to a river for a baptism ritual by a priest (there’s probably some religious symbolism that I’m not interpreting fully here). The video ends with her face dripping with water and blood (from a nosebleed). Unusual and perplexing, but in a great way.