Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley at Futureappletree Too
Elsewhere today, I heard someone sing that it's a full-time job dealing with the pain. It tends to work out that way for a lot of people, even those who seem so well-adjusted, who seem so kind, so sweet and so deserving of happiness. Just when they think they're being thrown a life raft, they discover that it's nothing but an anchor and the shore's going to be exponentially harder to reach. They grab a good breath and they brace themselves for the worst. They ply a fragility that's got a stiff coat of glaze to it. They've reinforced it as much as they can so that they shatter less easily with each passing pass. They're actually quite tough in interesting ways and they rattle only in quiet places.
Nashville-by way of-Iowa songwriter Hailey Whitters is one of those spectacular people who know how to pull off full disclosure tales in the most beautiful and touching ways. The people that she sings about are hurting, but they're hardly hurting. They're wounded, but you can only spot the limping if you're looking for it. "Is She Pretty?" is the most heartbreaking song you'll hear all year. It's the classic story of a man moving on to the next best thing with little understanding of what he left, or how much damage he did. When Whitters sings, "Who are you waking up with/Who are you taking home/Is she pretty/Is she nothing/Is she like me at all/Is it better than being alone," the full weight of the pain comes crashing down. The last line trails off with a soft, sad curl and you feel it like it was your own. You feel it, strangely, like you want it -- as if that pain were valuable and envied.