I have a pair of huge Natalie-Portman-in-Garden-State headphones that I can’t live without and that double as a set of earmuffs during the cold months. The headphones aren’t exactly modest, and feature a mono/stereo switch that had unknowingly set to mono. I was listening to Rosie Thomas’s beautiful “I Play Music” when I switched the headphones to stereo, and suddenly, a chorus of Rosies sang to me in harmony:
So I play music that's what I do
When I sing I lose myself
There's nothing more I'd rather do
Lord knows I've tried everything else
Despite this declaration, Rosie does more that just play music. She’s a complete artist and entertainer, and rarely does a discussion about Rosie transpire without reference to her gawky, comedic alter-ego and frequent show opener, Sheila Saputo. Her speaking voice is that of a child who knows plenty of secrets, so her whimsical use of “funnest” and “bonkers” in conversation doesn’t confuse, it compels and makes perfect sense. But just listen to “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” from 2005’s If Songs Could Be Held and the personality distinctions fade away. What you’ll hear is a grown woman who sings with bottomless emotional depth and understanding. You’ll hear the faithful soul that remains when Rosie loses herself in song. You’ll hear what she’s meant to do amidst everything else.
If Sufjan Stevens is the king of Michigan indie music, then Rosie Thomas is certainly the queen. She pledges allegiance to her home state in the title of her latest project, a documentary film called All the Way From Michigan Not Mars. In the movie, Rosie and Sufjan, along with friend and fellow songster Denison Witmer, provide a uniquely Michigan-flavored interpretation of REM’s classic “The One I Love,” full of a melancholy that is tender and hopeful. And while the arrangement of Rosie’s live performances may appear sparse, her songs have body and often move like a contemplative autumn stroll. Her sound isn’t unaffected by her time spent in Seattle, either. Rosie’s songs could have fit snugly into the mid-90s, and should be all over the radio and in people’s consciousness like they might have been then. There’s a resoluteness and folky swagger in her studio releases that feels vital to endure the perpetual grayness of the Pacific Northwest, like a flowy paisley print skirt paired with Doc Martens. It’s this same overcast sky that provides a backdrop in the trailer of All the Way From Michigan Not Mars, and the same Rosie Thomas, skipping in the sand or clutching a pink umbrella despite the dullness of that sky. She’s optimistic, thankful, curious and steady.
On her web site, you’ll see that Rosie posts her “Tip O the Month,” appropriately, at the beginning of each month. For October’s entry she presents an ironic list of Halloween costume suggestions (Darth Vader + Garth Brooks = Darth Brooks made me laugh audibly). There is one tip, however, that was humbly left off of the month’s list that unquestionably needs to be included: check out the screening of All the Way From Michigan Not Mars and see the many sides of Rosie Thomas perform at the Ladies Literary Club on October 16. And switch yourself to stereo.
- Padraic Wood