There’s only one word for the media coverage of Fiona Apple’s drug arrest: ugly. When the news broke last week that cops in Sierra Blanca, Texas had caught the singer with marijuana and hashish, tabloids invited us to “see her crazy mugshot,” and even the least gossipy of music sites followed suit in posting the photo. Never mind that when Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg were arrested for pot possession in the same border town, the press laughed off the story. Of course they smoke weed. Who cares? Despite reports that Apple cooperated with police, her incarceration quickly became a scandal — probably because it fit the train-wreck narrative she’s been saddled with for her entire career.
Reporters must have been relieved when, upon her release, Apple addressed her audience about the ordeal and finally gave them some eccentric behavior to work with. “I want you to know that I heard everything you did,” she said, in the only section of the speech most outlets bothered to quote. “I wrote it all down with your names and everything you did and said, stupidly thinking that I couldn’t hear or see you. I then ripped the paper up, but not before I encoded it and – I got two lock boxes. We’ll call them ‘holding cell one’ and ‘holding cell two.’ In ‘holding cell one’ is the encoded version of the shit that you did that I know was inappropriate and probably illegal. In ‘holding cell two’ is the decoder. I’m the only one who holds the key, and you and I will be intimate forever because I will hold that secret forever. Unless of course the celebrity that you had so much interest in but you wanted to accuse me of bringing up while you laughed at me all night? Unless you’re interested in being a celebrity, I’ll make you fucking famous any time you ask and I’ll open those boxes. So why don’t you stay in your fucking holding cell?”
In just a tiny sampling of all the snarky coverage that followed, Spin called the speech “baffling,” Gawker joked that it sounded “sort of like the ramblings of someone who smokes a lot of hash,” and BlackBook wondered, “What the fuck are you ‘Fiona Apple’-ing about, Fiona Apple?” Meanwhile, just about every outlet glossed over the part of Apple’s remarks in which she took responsibility for her behavior while in jail. “First thing is, the guy who runs the jail… he’s a good guy, and I want to apologize to him… for being attitude-y and saying that I didn’t trust him, because I didn’t, but by the end of the day, I did,” she said.
Soon after Apple’s speech made the news, Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rusty Fleming fired back at the singer:
First, Honey, I’m already more famous than you, I don’t need your help. However, it would appear that you need mine….
Two weeks ago nobody in the country cared about what you had to say, — now that you’ve been arrested it appears your entire career has been jump-started. Don’t worry Sweetie, I won’t bill you…
Next, have you ever heard of Snoop, Willie or Armand Hammer? Maybe if you would read something besides your own press releases, you would have known BEFORE you got here, that if you come to Texas with dope, the cops will take your DOPE away and put YOU in jail…
Even though you and I only met briefly in the hallway, I don’t know you but I’m sure you’re an awesome and talented young woman and even though I’m not a fan of yours, I am sure there are thousands of them out there, and I’m sure that they would just as soon you get this all behind you and let you go back to what you do best — so my last piece of advice is simple “just shut-up and sing.”
Now, whose comments sound crazier? On one side, we’ve got a singer who’s just spent a couple days on prison for possession of drugs that probably shouldn’t be illegal in the first place. Sure, Apple’s speech was florid, but she was relating a recent ordeal to an audience in the context of a performance. This wasn’t a press conference or an official statement. Fleming, however, represents the Sheriff’s Department. And his letter (which TMZ judges to be “AWESOME”) is a disaster. Aside from the obvious poor grammar, there’s the bizarre contention that “I’m already more famous than you” — which could have been a joke, except that Fleming goes on to claim that “Two weeks ago nobody in the country cared what you had to say.” Apparently he’s not a big reader of the entertainment press. Worse than all that, though, is the condescending, misogynist tone. “Sweetie”? “Honey”? “Just shut-up [sic] and sing”?
Fleming’s letter isn’t just embarrassing for him; it reflects poorly on the entire Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Department and casts Apple’s accusations in a new light. If that’s the attitude the department is willing to take in a public statement, why would we doubt her claims about the way certain individuals treated her behind closed doors? Before we judge the tone of her “ramblings,” let’s consider that she might still have been processing real trauma.
Actually, though, we don’t have to speak for Apple because she’s proven to be fully capable of addressing the situation herself. She’s commented further on the media circus surrounding her arrest and its aftermath. “I’m really, really sorry,” she told her fans at a show in New Orleans Tuesday. “All the work we did is being overshadowed by this bullshit.” And for those who couldn’t figure out that she was speaking metaphorically at the performance just after her release, she clarified: “There are no fucking lock boxes. I didn’t make up a code… It was my way to make a parallel between the self. I am not that fucked up.” You couldn’t really ask for more lucidity or self-awareness than that.