I’m not a big fan of Michael Penn. I much prefer Aimee Mann. It’s strange. Penn is the better writer. He is something we don’t see nearly enough in popular music: a craftsman. Still, it is Mann’s passion and anger that moves me. But in terms of pure pop music, there really is no one who better than Michael Penn.
Here is “No Myth.” I know that Andrea likes it — because of the literary references. Or maybe it is just that she thought that I would like it because of the literary references. But really, it only has two, and one of them is the most overused and annoying imaginable: Romeo. The other is Heathcliff, which is rather unusual. But there is the problem that I’m not really a Wuthering Heights fan. I fully admit that it is the best Brontë novel — but that’s mostly due to its great consistency that was never matched by the other sisters’ novels.
As for the character of Heathcliff, well, that’s kind of disturbing. I know women are supposed to swoon when in the presence of such a man, but ultimately, he’s more to the taste of adolescent girls than mature women. Had Catherine decided to marry him, wouldn’t he have just turned into a violent drunk who abused her? That’s pretty much the way he was to Isabella anyway — and she clearly never harmed him. He is not a pleasant character.
None of this is to say that I miss Michael Penn’s meaning. Both Romeo and Heathcliff are the stuff of immature female fantasy. But ultimately, the male complaint in the song is the same one we’ve been hearing from “sensitive” young men for centuries: if only she knew the “real” me. But who is the “real” singer? Edgar Linton?