Aimee Mann-splains Etiquette

The singer-songwriter explains how cats and actor Andrew Garfield served as muses for her latest album, then she helps our listeners deal with mansplainers, tattoo copycats, and friends who won't let you off the hook.

Photo Credit: Sheryl Nields

Each week you send us your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this week is Aimee Mann.

In the ‘80s, her band Til Tuesday hit the charts with the now classic song, “Voices Carry.” She’s since become a hugely respected solo artist with Grammy and Oscar nominations under her belt. She also recorded and toured with fellow pop maestro Ted Leo.

Her new album, “Mental Illness,” finds her telling cutting and unabashedly sad stories in song form. [Ed note: Below a single from the album called, “Goose Snow Cone.”]

“It’s not about a goose,” Amy explains. “It was inspired by looking at an Instagram picture of a cat named Goose. And Goose has a fluffy white little face, and she looked like a little snow cone.”

“And I started writing this sad little song, which immediately became sad, and not really about a cat,” she added. “But the cat was making me sad because I was homesick, I was on the road, and it was all snowy, and I was cold.”

Before answering a few of our listeners’ etiquette questions, she explains why she wanted the sound she wanted to achieve with this album, how actor Andrew Garfield inspired a song, and why she started to incorporate comedians into her live performances.

Interview Highlights:

On whether there are nights where singing melancholy music can get to be a bit too much

Aimee Mann: I don’t think so. I mean, I think there are probably a couple of songs that super bring you down. But I think that, honestly, with that [“Goose Snow Cone”] song, the saddest thing is the music part. You know, like the background vocals come in and they’re humming, and it’s so like, “Oh my God, why is that so sad? Some people humming in harmony? I don’t know.”

On why she wanted “Mental Illness” to sound “depressing”

Aimee Mann: [I] wanted it to be depressing, or knew it would be depressing, because I’m the one writing it. Because every time I write a song, the things I’m interested in are people with problems, and people who are broken and can’t get unbroken. And that’s just interesting to me.

On how the song “Patient Zero” was inspired by actor Andrew Garfield

Brendan Francis Newnam: One of your songs is called “Patient Zero,” which is about a Hollywood arrival with big dreams, but kind of everything sours and the dreams dry up. As someone who lives in LA and is an entertainer, and has worked in movies, what does this say about the world you move in?

Aimee Mann: Well, it’s not necessarily… I’m gonna use some double negatives. It’s not necessarily not that kind of world. I mean, movies with gigantic budgets and people who are trying to maximize their profits, and people who are like, “I want a part of that! I’m gonna edge this guy out.” That does go on.

This was inspired by Andrew Garfield, ‘cause I met him at a party. And I feel like he’s a sensitive, real artist. And I had this moment where I was like, “I worry about this guy in this world, because he really cares about what he’s doing and he really is a sensitive artist.”

And I think that it takes a kind of narcissistic toughness to negotiate really those big blockbuster movies. I mean he obviously was fine. God bless him, I don’t know how, ‘cause I just think it’s tough. I think it’s hard.

On finding kinship with comedians on tour

Aimee Mann: We just travel in the same circles. And so, my husband and I, Michael Penn, started — I mean this was a long, long time ago — but we started having comedians be part of our show. And here’s why: Every time we would play together, after the show we’d go like, “Well that was pretty good.” But we’d both say like, “I never know what to say on stage.”

So I had the idea of, “Well, we need like a pinch-hitter. Bring in an expert!” Like, “Who’s good at talking on stage but a comedian?” And so, for the banter, we’d have guys come on. And then we took it on tour, and Patton Oswalt did a lot of them, David Cross did some, Paul F. Tompkins did some.

It was so much fun and it weirdly made sense. Because those guys are so wordy in the best possible way, and sort of focused people on listening to the language. And then they would be almost more attentive and kind of hooked into the music.


When to call someone out for mansplaining

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, this first question comes from Marina in Washington, D.C. And she writes: “I was waiting in a line and overheard an extended conversation between a man and a woman next to me in which he was clearly and egregiously mansplaining to her about several different topics. The woman said nothing, to my annoyance. I really wanted to respond but figured it was a private conversation. When it is appropriate to call someone out for mansplaining?”

Aimee Mann: That’s, you know, probably not in this situation. It’s a private conversation. She’s got her own cross to carry with this guy.

Rico Gagliano: You’re not going to help anything, it doesn’t seem like.

Aimee Mann: Yeah. It’s everybody’s personal burden to correct their personal mansplainers. I think if it was a more public… I don’t know, like if somebody was on a panel and correcting the female…

Rico Gagliano: Panelists.

Aimee Mann: Panelists.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh! Did you just mansplain Aimee Mann?

Aimee Mann: Oh, my God! Get out of this room.

Rico Gagliano: I was just providing an example. Now how would you deal with me? Let’s see what happens.

Aimee Mann: Point it out, laugh, ridicule.

Rico Gagliano: I think that just happened!

Creepy tattoo copycat

Here’s something from Anonymous in New York. Anonymous writes: “A few weeks ago, a coworker asked about one of my tattoos. The next Monday, he came into work with the same tattoo in the same place.”

Aimee Mann: Oh, I hate it.

Rico Gagliano: “I have no idea how to react to this, or if there’s anything to be done. What do you think?”

Aimee Mann: Ew. I don’t like that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is creepy.

Aimee Mann: There’s nothing to be done post-tattoo. It’s a tattoo, and he’s probably not taking it off. I think this is one of those cases of information that you should not forget that you are dealing with a kind of a stalker-y, appropriating… So, just, it’s like, heads-up, a serious heads-up because it’s weird.

Brendan Francis Newnam: The only thing I can think of that would make this acceptable would be if the one tattoo had two dots, and the other tattoo finished the ellipsis or something like that. If it was a whimsical response.

Aimee Mann: I mean, I have a tattoo that’s similar to a tattoo that somebody else had, but, you know, it’s a discussion. “Would you mind? Is that weird?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re talking about your Tupac tattoo on your stomach?

Aimee Mann: Yeah. My Nixon back piece. I got it from Roger Stone. Me and Roger discussed it. He was like, “No, man, I’m cool, I’m cool. Spread the word.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, we’re learning a lot. There you go, Anonymous.

Rico Gagliano: Yes, Aimee and Roger Stone hanging out, talking tats.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Godspeed.

Aimee Mann: I mean, make no mistake. It’s creepy, and it should be noted, and this guy is definitely… That’s permanent creep.

Dealing with not-so-subtle singing prompts

Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from Alexis via Instagram, and the question is: “How would you best handle it if someone started humming ‘Voices Carry’ at a dinner or event?”

Aimee Mann: I hate this. This is so wildly passive-aggressive because the expectation is like, “Oh, yeah! I recognize that song. Yeah, that’s my song. Ha, ha, you got me!”

Rico Gagliano: What if they didn’t recognize you?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, come on.

Aimee Mann: That’s even weirder.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Come on. What are the odds?

Aimee Mann: Even weirder.

Rico Gagliano: It must happen occasionally, though, that you’re wandering through some place, and “Voices Carry” is on.

Aimee Mann: It’s just the worst feeling.

Rico Gagliano: Really?

Aimee Mann: You feel very self-conscious. You want to get out of the supermarket.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You don’t feel like, “I just made two more cents!” Or whatever royalties are made at this point?

Aimee Mann: No.

Rico Gagliano: You’re in the mall. You’re like, “I’m going to splurge a little. There’s money rolling in as I listen.”

Aimee Mann: Yeah, gum!

Handling that friend who wants to keep you on the hook

Rico Gagliano: Here’s our last question. This comes from another Anonymous. Jeez, nobody wants to identify themselves. Anonymous says, “I have a friend who calls me almost every day and does not know when to end the phone conversation. Eventually, I’ll give bored uh-huhs or even make up excuses about having a kitchen emergency. She still doesn’t catch the hint. How do I ask her to dial things back” — nice one, Anonymous — “without hurting her feelings?”

Aimee Mann: Yeah, this is rough. I totally relate. I think the thing to do is to, at the start of the conversation, say, “”Hey, I only have 10 minutes to talk, but let’s go.” And then just set a timer, and then, ding, ding, ding, ding! “Oh, my god, I’ve got to go!”

And really, you just have to hang up, and it won’t feel good because you’re wanting the other person to go, “Oh, no problem!” But they’re not going to let you off the hook. They don’t want to let you off the hook. They want you on the hook. That is where they want you.

Rico Gagliano: You just have to reconcile yourself to the hook, Anonymous.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, we’re going to hang up the phone on this conversation.

Rico Gagliano: Sorry.

Aimee Mann: I’m very offended.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Thank you for Mann-splaining to our audience.

Aimee Mann: Yes, you’re welcome.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]