On this day in 1963, Natalie Anne Merchant was born in Jamestown, N.Y. After
achieving stardom with the pop-rock band 10,000 Maniacs, Merchant jump-started her
solo career with the hugely successful Tigerlily in 1995.
In the early '80s, Still Life -- a Jamestown band comprising Jerry Augustyniak (drums),
Robert Buck (guitar), Steve Gustafson (bass) and John Lombardo (guitar) -- renamed
themselves 10,000 Maniacs after the movie "2,000 Maniacs" and gigged steadily around
their hometown. During one show, they invited the teen-age Merchant, who was taking
classes at Jamestown Community College, onstage to sing with them.
The Maniacs were impressed with Merchant's stage presence and poetry. They asked
her to join the band and her poems became the basis for the 10,000 Maniacs' debut EP,
Human Conflict Number Five, which they issued on their own Christian Burial
Merchant's mother tried to get her daughter to leave the band, which she thought was
"having all these orgies and selling drugs" (Gustafson told Rolling Stone
magazine). But Merchant stayed with the Maniacs, whose first LP was Secrets of the I
Ching (1983). Famous British DJ John Peel made a hit of the album's "My Mother the
War," enabling the band to tour in Britain.
Elektra Records soon signed the Maniacs and issued The Wishing Chair (1985).
In My Tribe (1987) was a real sleeper and eventually became the band's
breakthrough. It stayed on the Billboard 200 albums chart for 77 weeks. Radio hits
included "Like the Weather" and the child-abuse-themed "What's The Matter Here?" The
album also included a version of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train," which the band later
removed when its composer supported the fatwa against "The Satanic Verses" author
Salman Rushdie. The Maniacs supported the album by opening for emerging superstars
R.E.M., and Merchant and Michael Stipe (who sang on the LP's "A Campfire Song")
became very good friends.
By the release of Blind Man's Zoo in 1989, 10,000 Maniacs were headliners. The
album featured the hit "Trouble Me," but many critics found it too pedantic. After a hiatus,
the band returned in 1992 with Our Time In Eden, another big hit, buoyed by the
vibrant "These Are Days" and "Candy Everybody Wants."
The Maniacs performed at the "MTV Inaugural Ball" for President Clinton in 1993, during
which Stipe joined Merchant for a take on the Lulu smash "To Sir With Love." But
Merchant soon felt the need to broaden her musical horizons and departed the very hot
band. An MTV Unplugged album, featuring Merchant, followed and became a
great success for the Maniacs.
Merchant's solo debut, Tigerlily (1995), was an even bigger hit than her Maniacs
work. It spawned the singles
(RealAudio excerpt) and "Wonder," which came with popular videos. Merchant's solo
tour also was well-received.
In 1998, she joined the all-women Lilith Fair tour to support Ophelia, which made
the top 10 and spawned the radio favorite "Kind and
Generous" (RealAudio excerpt).
Merchant, who campaigns for animal rights and against domestic violence and
homelessness, performed at the 1998 benefit for Tibet House and contributed to Red,
Hot + Rhapsody, an album of George Gershwin covers to benefit AIDS relief.
Other birthdays: Keith Hopwood (Herman's Hermits), 52; Bootsy Collins, 47; Maggie
Roche (Roches), 47; David Was [Was (Not Was)], 46; and Keith Strickland (B-52's), 45.