Natalie Merchant – Carnival

This song peaked at #10 in the Billboard 100 in 1995. This remains Natalie’s highest-charted single thus far. This track from her first album Tigerlily and is what she calls her “New York song,” as it’s written about New York City.

Tigerlily peaked at #13 in 1995 in the Billboard Album Chart.

This is somewhat creepy… This song was played at the funeral of serial killer Aileen Wuornos as part of her final request. She had listened to the song and the entire album Tigerlily continually while on death row. When confronted with this, Natalie was initially shocked but gave permission to use the song in the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, saying that “It’s very odd to think of the places my music can go once it leaves my hands. If it gave her some solace, I have to be grateful.” Wuornos was also the subject of the film Monster.

From Songfacts

Merchant grew up in rural Jamestown, New York, which is in the western part of the state south of Buffalo. That’s where she formed 10,000 Maniacs in 1981, a group she was with until 1993 when she left to go solo. 

Merchant explained in a VH1 Storytellers appearance: “‘Carnival’ really evokes for me what it’s like to walk down any avenue in the City. I grew up in the country, so the nearest thing I ever experienced to walking down the street in New York before I was 16 and I came here for the first time was a carnival – the Stockton Gala Days actually. I’d never seen people walking down the street eating before – that was a bizarre experience. We in the country sit down to take our meals – that just blew me away.

Something else I’d never seen before were the gentlemen with the two-sided placards that hand out invitations to peep shows, but I never seemed to get one – they always picked the guys around me. It’s an amazing city, but what I love about it even more than places like Los Angeles is that everybody at sometime has to deal with other people. It’s not a car culture here. I like that: people have to rub against each other. I like to take the subway, I like to study people’s faces, try to imagine their stories. In the song, I see the city as a stage, as a spectacle, as a carnival, and as a madhouse, because sometimes it is that, it’s a totally insane place to live. When I was 16 and I visited for the first time, I said, ‘I’m going to live here someday.’ You’ve got to be careful what you wish for because sometimes it comes true.”

Merchant performed this song, along with “Wonder,” on an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by David Schwimmer in 1995.

Carnival

Well, I’ve walked these streets
A virtual stage, it seemed to me
Makeup on their faces
Actors took their places next to me

Well, I’ve walked these streets
In a carnival, of sights to see
All the cheap thrill seekers vendors and the dealers
They crowded around me

Have I been blind have I been lost
Inside myself and my own mind
Hypnotized, mesmerized by what my eyes have seen?

Well, I’ve walked these streets
In a spectacle of wealth and poverty
In the diamond markets the scarlet welcome carpet
That they just rolled out for me

And I’ve walked these streets
In the madhouse asylum they can be
Where a wild-eyed misfit prophet
On a traffic island stopped and he raved of saving me

Have I been blind, have I been lost
Inside myself and my own mind
Hypnotized, mesmerized by what my eyes have seen

Have I been wrong, have I been wise
To shut my eyes and play along
Hypnotized, paralyzed by what my eyes have found
By what my eyes have seen
What they have seen?

Have I been blind
Have I been lost
Have I been wrong
Have I been wise
Have I been strong
Have I been hypnotized, mesmerized by what my eyes have found
In that great street carnival

Have I been blind
Have I been lost
Have I been wrong
Have I been wise
Have I been strong
Have I been hypnotized, mesmerized by what my eyes have found
In that great street carnival

In that carnival

Natalie Merchant – Wonder

Natalie has a unique voice and a style of her own. I saw her in the 80s with 10,000 Maniacs and they were great.

When she was a teenager, Natalie Merchant worked at a day camp for special needs children, many of whom had been institutionalized since infancy and abandoned by their parents. This song was inspired by that experience.

The song peaked at #20 in the Billboard 100 and #10 in Canada in1996. Wonder was on the album Tigerlily that peaked at #13 in Billboard album charts  in1995.

From Songfacts

She explained on a VH1 Storytellers appearance: “When I was 13 years old, we’re talking 1976, I spent my summer working as a volunteer for a bunch of hippies, basically, that got a seed grant from the Carter administration, which had a lot of really wonderful programs for the arts. These people started a day camp for handicapped children, and I worked for them the whole summer. A lot of these children were institutionalized – their parents had left the scene a long time ago. They didn’t function so well in a conventional sense, but it seems that a lot of the children had developed like a private language or new senses so they could navigate through the world, especially the blind and the deaf children that we worked with.

From an early age, I had that contact with children who had special needs. I had lost my fear of intimacy with them – especially with Down syndrome kids, they could be really unpredictable and up to that point I had been a little frightened of them. I maintained some of the friendships with those kids and I was always open to meeting children with special needs. So when I wrote the song ‘Wonder,’ I wrote the song about a woman who was born with handicaps that seemed insurmountable, but she did overcome them, greatly because she had a loving family, especially her adoptive mother – she had been given up to an institution at birth.”

This is a very meaningful song to many people who grew up with special needs and their caretakers. The song views these people as “wonders,” with doctors having no explanation for their condition, but seeing the work of God in the creation.

“I’ve met a lot of people through this song, and they’ve told me that they’ve taken it on as their song, that it describes them,” Merchant said. “It describes their strengths in spite of what others would see as deficiencies.”

Natalie Merchant performed this song, along with “Carnival,” on an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by David Schwimmer in 1995.

Wonder

Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me
Stand over my bed, disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders 
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see, they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions, want confessions
They reach into my head to steal, the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders 
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see, they can offer
No explanation

Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled 
And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle 
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience, and with faith
She’ll make her way, she’ll make her way

People see me I’m a challenge to your balance
I’m over your heads how I confound you 
And astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders

They say I must be one of the wonders 
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see, they can offer
No explanation

Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled 
And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle 
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way, she’ll make her way