A Personal History of Music, Day 14: “Extraordinary Thing,” by k.d. lang
I believe I was slightly behind the rest of my generational cohort in coming to k.d. lang. Most of the people who I know admire her work came on board with it in the Ingenue days, with “Constant Craving” being the Canadian singer’s biggest pop hit, now and then. I thought the song was perfectly fine, but it didn’t move me to think of her work as just another perfectly fine song on the radio.
What actually got me to k.d. lang was a follow-up album, Drag, an album of songs from other writers, where the (rather) loose theme was of cigarette smoking. I bought it because I had heard her cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” which was terrific, slow and sultry and showcasing lang’s genius at musical interpretation and phrasing. The song was the album’s calling card but not its standout track; that would be Roy Orbinson’s “Til the Heart Caves In,” in which lang Orbisons her heart out. In truth the whole album was smartly done, and now lang had my attention.
It was Invincible Summer that brought it all home for me. Unlike Drag, lang wrote or co-wrote all the songs on Summer. Unsurprisingly, the album has the consistent feel of summer (it’s right there in title) — but for me, not just of summer, but late summer, where things are still hot but where the frenzy and crush of the crowd is over. It’s the summer afterglow, and there’s no rush, but there’s still possibility. It’s not the summer of teenagers and amusement parks and ice cream; it’s the one you get after that, when you’re grown up just a little more and can take a moment to appreciate the sunset over the ocean, possibly over a drink, with that person you’ve become increasingly intrigued with. As the kids say, it’s a whole vibe.
A number of tracks from the album capture that vibe, but none more perfectly than “Extraordinary Thing,” in which lang, posing as a rather ordinary person, celebrates the extraordinary person who has been put in her path, and is just… kind of overwhelmed? But tastefully! And in song! And with k.d. lang’s ability as a singer, which is, in a word, extraordinary.
And, well, look. Anyone who has ever looked at their partner and thought, Jesus, how did I ever manage to convince that person to be with me? knows exactly what lang is singing about here. I certainly did. I get this song every time I look at Krissy. I live it every day. My heart overfills with it. I’d sing it if I could. Fortunately, lang’s got that covered for me.