Cameron Crowe commissioned Wise Up for his film Jerry Maguire, but for some reason, despite loving the demo, he didn’t much care for the finished version and wound up not using it in the theatrical release, a decision he later came to regret – it’s on the official soundtrack album, and Crowe later told Mann that he didn’t know what he was thinking, being as the polished studio version is so lovely. It wound up as a prominent, indeed definitive, element of the soundtrack for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
One tends to perceive a lot of Aimee’s deeply personal songs as expressions of essentially feminist abhorrence of the pain women suffer in abusive relationships with men, partly because that’s often actually the case (see You’re With Stupid Now ), and was the express theme of the song through which all of us first got to know her back in 1985, when her old band, Til Tuesday, broke with Voices Carry. Most of the guys I hung with immediately fell in love with the elfin lead singer, and felt like cheering wildly when first viewing that final scene of the video, when Aimee stands up disruptively in the middle of a performance at Carnegie Hall to shout out her pain and indignation to the whole world:
It still gets me, the way she practically wails, as if she can’t quite wrap her mind around being with somebody who’d deny her dignity and autonomy, or bear any longer the humiliation and dismissiveness:
Hush, hush, he said shut up
He said shut up
Oh God, can’t you keep it down?
He told her to shut up. She really made you feel the sting of it, the emotional cruelty.
Wise Up always seemed to me like it was of a piece, sounding like exasperated pleading with a friend to smarten up, for the love of God, and extricate herself from a toxic relationship before it’s too late. Upon reflection, though, I’m not so sure; is it written as speaking to somebody else, or is the singer reproaching herself? Is it about getting out of a relationship gone bad, or some other sort of abuse, or even some sort of self-destructive behaviour? It’s really quite enigmatic:
What you thought
When you first began it
What you want
Now you can hardly stand it though
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
‘Til you wise up
What’s not going to stop? Really, it could be anything, from drug addiction to wasting away as a soulless hedge fund manager on Wall Street. Within Magnolia, the song is featured in a sequence in which the film’s many characters, all embroiled in their own complicated storylines, sing along as if having their own epiphanies about their own peculiar struggles:
In selecting Wise Up for the emotional climax of his film, Paul Thomas Anderson understood that it needn’t be interpreted specifically, that it wasn’t about anything granular at all, or at least didn’t have to be. It’s about personal crisis, painful introspection, and those rare moments of self-awareness when we realize, whatever our circumstances, that we’ve been sleepwalking through a tragedy that’s mainly of our own creation, shuffling toward the edge of the cliff that we’ve always been able to tell ourselves isn’t really there, always, that is, until right this minute. Just now, just for a moment, we see it clearly. Maybe at that point some of us make changes, though I’m reminded of the closing line of Eliot’s Prufrock: Till human voices wake us, and we drown.