Staff pick: Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Maria Joranko, Community Outreach and Teen Programs Coordinator

May 06, 2020

Album cover art for Fiona Apple's 2020 release Fetch the Bolt Cutters

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Content advisory: adult language

When I was 15, listening to Fiona Apple’s song "Criminal" made me feel like I was a bad bitch with a secret that I had no business having. Back then, I was a moody teen going through the trials and tribulations of having a profoundly shitty boyfriend and the turmoil of different loves and emotions. That melancholic and defiant ballad from 1996 related to someone that hid inside a recessed and taboo part of myself.

At 25, after another series of relationships that I gave both too little and too many fucks about, I would return to that song. “Heaven help me for the way I am. Save me from these evil deeds before I get them done.” I felt understood and like someone was showing me a version of myself I had fought against. We all have our secrets and Apple reveals hers (and possibly mine) with the rawness of her voice and lyrics. This was the beginning of an understanding of the cycles our various selves take. Damn, she is magic. 

Now at 27, Apple’s new 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays on repeat as I sit in isolation within a pentagram of knives and rose petals. I’ve been turning to my rituals for stability as another relationship undergoes the inevitable guillotining of love and I’m forced to sit with myself. This is the space I build to open my brain and access the locked door of my own desires, fantasy, and repressed thoughts. My need to sharpen the daggers I have historically thrown at myself fights the petals that seal my wounds and scars. With my eyes closed I submit my consciousness to the soundscape and connections that bind. Opening with "I Want You To Love Me," her characteristically soulful piano playing pulls my chest with a swell of unguarded emotion that rends into entreaties of yearning, belonging to Apple and myself. Woven within the seductively playful and complex melodies, Apple excavates the soul and collaborates with the versions of herself that have existed. “I know that time is elastic and I know, when I go, all my particles disband and disperse.” The past opens the invisible wounds that are tangible and the present takes action. 

Her music is a moment of transmuted energy that facilitates growth and reckoning. “I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me….Kick me under the table all you want. I won’t shut up. I won’t shut up.”  She’s standing up for herself, but also standing up for me. How many times has Apple been dismissed or diminished? How many times have I let someone get away with the same thing?

The air is raw and I join her in this journey and unbinding ritual where Apple confronts the abuses and mental traps that have plagued her. Her middle school and adult selves sing together to stand up to the powers that be (bullies, men, rapists, oppressive patriarchies, and more), and she is armed.  Using her words and the ubiquitous bolt cutters, she takes honest action and begins to sever the mental and spiritual cords that have held her. “Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long. Fetch the bolt cutters, whatever happens happens.” She is her own liberator and faces her reality. There is no apology and I want to have strength like hers. This shit is deeply personal, but what does it say about our society that these feelings are universal?

"I felt understood and like someone was showing me a version of myself I had fought against. We all have our secrets and Apple reveals hers (and possibly mine) with the rawness of her voice and lyrics. This was the beginning of an understanding of the cycles our various selves take. Damn, she is magic."

In my pentagram, I begin to confront the ropes I’ve been ignoring for so long. Now I have different secrets. Empowered by my roses and knives, I let Apple’s voice guide my hands with my bolt cutters as we sever each of the cords wrapped around us. It’s time to be set free from the constraints: failed relationships, memories of bullies' taunts, the sexual violence of men, the microaggressions I’m forced to swallow every day, the public and private humiliation of racism, and my own self-doubt. The bolt cutters in my hands stop shaking and confidently cut away the toxic bonds. 

While I can relate to her voice on many levels, there is a layer of danger that is deeper than she will ever know. The whiteness that is her final shroud of safety means she will never fully grasp the enhanced precariousness of these situations for me and never deal with the same power dynamic or depth of risk. I have to accept that I will also never understand this for others. Nevertheless, the bearably unbearable stories and memories that I repeated in my head until I was retching out their effects are slowly being ripped apart.

“Evil is a relay sport when the one who’s burned, turns to pass the torch.” Apple holds my hand and we stop the race and apply the rose petals that heal our burns. Evil stops where acts of compassion and steely tenderness begin. Halting the cycle of harm is an act of resistance and commitment to the liberation of our minds and bodies. It’s easy to say, but this is a monumental task that needs to take place within our collective culture and communities.

Bones and blood hold the scars and lesions that burn from each injustice. The language of care is built when the right of equitable humanity is demanded and seized. It’s not a big ask and yet it seems monumental. “While I’m in this body, I want somebody to want and I want what I want and I want you to love me.” I wanted these words to be about a partner, but now I see that they’re about me. I exit the pentagram and unbind my memories as my voice mingles with Apple’s to find love and growth for our former, present, and future selves. 

Purchase Fetch the Bolt Cutters from

Listen to the album on Spotify.

Album cover image via

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