On a frigid New York City evening in January, I realized a hidden dream of mine – hearing Sara Bareilles perform her song, “She Used to Be Mine,” live. I say hidden only because I am that person who only remembers how incredible it is to see their favorite performers live when it’s actually happening. I’m not often the kind to plan months ahead of time to catch a show; it’s the procrastinator in me. World travel? Yes. Concert? No. But this past January I was lucky enough to be in town while Sara Bareilles was performing in the hit musical Waitress.
Not only was she doing a stint starring as the lead, but she originally wrote the music for the show that’s been out now for over 3 years. Waitress, if you don’t know, is:
Based on the 2007 film by the late Adrienne Shelly, Waitress follows Jenna, a pregnant waitress in the south trapped in an abusive marriage and looking for a happy ending. She finds relief—and potentially that happy ending—by making creatively titled pies and forming a romance with an unlikely newcomer.
The film starred Keri Russell as Jenna, and the musical’s debut Jenna was played by Jessie Mueller. If you listen to the cast recording, you’ll catch her phenomenal voice as well. Other notable Jenna’s along the way include Katharine McPhee (of AmericanIdol and Smash) and the Shoshana Bean (Wicked). The musical also has been nominated for several Tony awards.
So, picture it, West 47th Street, inside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, a boy (and his dad) steadily getting more and more excited for the curtain to rise and the opening number, “What’s Inside,” to start. A running joke in the movie and musical is all about the wacky names of pies (think the specials board gag on Bob’sBurgers) so of course I had to buy a souvenir pie in a jar offered at the concessions. The tower of pies in a case that bookend that stage also helped the decision.
The names of pies often reflect how Jenna’s feeling at any given time, and that night I was feeling like a cookies & cream pie, a mix of something that’s made into something else, nervous and giddy. I was trying not to think about my many months of traveling coming to an end. Trying not to think about having to stay in one place for too long. Trying not to think about how my very first boyfriend had come back into my life and already left it again. Eight years later, and I’m still making the same mistake of trusting him. Trying to think about a pie being made out of cookies instead. One form into another. One love into the next.
Many blog posts ago, I shared a story about my first tattoo. One reason I say I chose the word “stay” – even if it’s not the ultimate reason – was it reminded me of one of my favorite Sara Bareilles songs called, “Stay.” So, one could say I’m a fan of hers. Since then,“She Used to Be Mine,” climbed my own personal charts and surpassed the play count on “Stay.” Hearing Bareilles sing it live, to hear her share it as the character Jenna and not just a studio recording, marked the second time I teared up during the show (the first was during the song, “When He Sees Me.” The lyrics, “To find someone to talk to / Who likes the way I am / Someone who when he sees me / Wants to again,” was all too relatable).
The root of “She Used to Be Mine,” for me, the beauty of it, is it’s about recognizing something may have been lost within you, your center if you will, but it can be found again. I’m not one for inspirational speeches or self-help style anything, but if a song can make me feel what Oprah’s SuperSoulSunday is trying to teach others, then I listen. Then I hear the message. Fittingly, Michael Paulson for The New York Times wrote recently on how relatable this song has turned out to be. He writes:
Sometimes, a song takes on a life of its own.
Sara Bareilles says that when she wrote “She Used to Be Mine,” [...] it seemed so insanely specific (“she is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie”) that she felt self-conscious performing it in concert.
But audiences have a way of making decisions for themselves. The song, written for a pregnant, abused waitress, reflecting back on the dreams she did not achieve, has been claimed, unexpectedly, by men, by children, by singers of all sorts.
“The range of who this song speaks to is much broader than I could have anticipated,” Ms. Bareilles said. “The chasm between who we are, and who we thought we would be, is always something we’re negotiating.”
We all lose our sense of self at one point in time, or worse, maybe realize we never had it. I know I have.
I often let my relationships consume me, whether I see it or not. Somehow romantic validation, it’s something so elusive and fleeting and wanted by me. I think it’s some sort of stinging revelation of mine lately, that growing up closeted I couldn’t help feeling like no one would ever love me the way I wanted (hella gay), and being raised Mormon, that I shouldn’t ever be loved that way (hella gay). After years and years of unlearning all of that bullshit, that fear has become something else. Falling in love with that boy eight years ago also taught me this – that love won’t last. Doesn’t last. Can’t last. We are finite. Yet a song came along that helps me find my way back. Back from a romantic love that keeps making me forget how validating the love from family and friends is. Back from a love that never stays mine. A song that weaves a story that now seems a fabric of my selfhood, tendons and blood vessels weaving together with the lyrics and notes.
So, on West 47th Street and inside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, I was reminded of me. That love comes and it goes, that the boy(s) along the way aren’t all that matter. What matters is if I can live with myself. What matters is if I stay mine.
PS: Be sure and check out that New York Times article for some great covers of the song as well.
Sara Bareilles singing "She Used to Be Mine."
PPS: Please listen to Adrian Matthews cover. It's GORGEOUS.