It's hard not to have empathy for the protagonist featured in Jeremy Fisher's self-made music video of his most popular song to date. The main character in the rock and roll love ballad is the sort that gives temporary satisfaction and because of it, often finds him or herself being used repeatedly in ultimately destructive relationships. There's an element of pity for the protagonist, portrayed by a cute, cuddly, huggable, lovable … cigarette.
No, Fisher is not employed by Phillip Morris or any other big tobacco company. In fact, he's not even a smoker. Fisher is, however, a talented songwriter, capable of looking at people and issues from more than one perspective. Casting a smoke in a sympathetic light with his song “Cigarette” is just one instance of Fisher's multi-point-of-view music on his album Goodbye Blue Monday.
“Whether you're a songwriter or a visual artist or a storyteller or a filmmaker, you have to feel empathy. You have to put yourself in somebody else's shoes,” Fisher says.
What's most striking isn't the attempt to explore foreign situations, as he does with “American Girls,” a tune that covers a female U.S. soldier's involvement in the Abu Ghraib interrogations from the point of view of a prisoner. It's the fun and festive notes that are notable, drawing a contrast that invites exploration of the female soldier's point of view as well. It's a tune that her girlfriends back home might be tapping their toes to while breaking hearts out on the town. But while the whimsical words they hear would likely be sung by Tom Petty, Fisher's soldier story features spirit-breaking lines like: “And her eyes / are the sky, blue and wide / Dropping bombs, planting mines / She paints my world in red.”
“I'm most inspired by John Prine, who just has an amazing way of telling things in an honest and humorous and sometimes sad way. I think that it's important to mix all things … not a single one of us humans are one-dimensional,” Fisher says. “And that's what makes a great song, that it's not just one-sided, that it makes you feel and decide how it resonates with you rather that just telling you one point of view or what to feel or what to think.”
It's an ethos he also applies to his live show. The jingling strings on tunes like “American Girls” are fit for a dance-happy, drink raising good time. The lyrics are a bit of a buzz kill. You won't find Fisher trying to bring his crowd down though if they happen to be happy when he plays what is ultimately a heavy tune.
“There are many different ways to experience the same song,” Fisher says. “I don't want to be the person that's like, 'Okay, well this is a heavy song and you all need to understand how heavy it is and feel that emotion.' That doesn't make sense when people are dancing around and having a good time, but that sort of paradox is where the songs come from and that's what's great about art and great about music. It's not just any one thing.”
• Fisher plays The Birchmere Sunday, April 27, with The Proclaimers. Tickets are $25 and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. For more on Fisher, visit www.jeremyfishermusic.com.