�I was born six years before we landed on the moon,� writes Alice Ripley. �Seven weeks before the Beatles landed on the Ed Sullivan show, three weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and eleven days before Christmas.� On her debut album, Everything�s Fine, Alice again enters quietly into an America distracted by splashier events. In the stillness when no one else is looking, she writes the surprising poetry of the ordinary�in which shoes and steering wheels figure as largely as angels, and tragedy may be a sunny afternoon in suburbia.
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�The Bradys rule,� Alice sings�as well she should, since her own experience, growing up, was a Brady-esque cobbling together of families. After her parents divorced and her father remarried, she found herself the middle child of eleven. Alice has joked that she didn�t get her very own underwear until she left for college. Much of her writing reflects the uneasiness born of having come of age in a crowd�both loved and overlooked, unique and faceless�yearning for recognition and identity.
The voice that tells us Everything�s Fine is a particularly American one, shaped by a particularly American childhood. Like many children of divorce, Alice shuttled between households, and in her case between states�the demands of her father�s business forced him to move often, and the book of her growing up had chapters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana. �The transient feeling of the songs�of my life�comes from going back and forth between my mother and my dad, and their moving.� It isn�t surprising that Alice�s first record is characterized by restlessness�by railroad tracks, packing boxes, and yellow lines on the highway. In the lovely, aching �Drive,� she makes escape her anthem:
Guess I�ll drive in my wheelin� blue angel
Out of the city, into the desert, across the ocean
Guess I�ll cry so unexpectedly
Until I�m dry and I can finally cease this constant motion
Alice�s search for a true sense of belonging is emblematic of modern childhood. She was continually the �new kid� at school; she had a sudden, unconventional family. Her fantasies were of one day getting to ride with her father in the front seat of his car, or hear her mother acknowledge their long-ago happiness with one story, one photograph. And though it wasn�t, the adults insisted everything was fine. This sense of denial is a major theme of Alice�s music. In the bitterly funny �Suburbia,� she tackles the forced normalcy of a middle-class neighborhood where unpleasantness is swept under the carpet:
The Stepford family lives right next door
They don�t allow black-soled shoes on their hardwood floor
I�ve never seen them bleed, that�s why I�m so sure
They�re bionic to the core, every weekend at the shore in suburbia
�That was a huge identifying factor for me�and I know that I�m one of millions who experienced the same thing�the denial that there�s any problem, or sickness or abuse, emotional or otherwise, or pain. My songs tell stories that people who grew up like me can relate to�you don�t even have to tell them what the songs are about, because they�ll know. The stories may be common. But the way they�re told, lyrically and melodically, makes them worth listening to, and that�s what I never really got until recently, why I never made a record until now.�
By the time Alice attended Kent State University, her life had taken an unusual turn: �When I was fourteen, I got a guitar and started taking guitar lessons. But I also started taking acting lessons. And theater became my church, my structure, my family, my identity. If I had practiced my guitar more, I�d have been an awesome guitar player, and I know I would have been writing songs back then. But I gave my entire heart and being to the theater. So up until relatively recently, I haven�t really had the time or energy.� After graduating with a degree in musical theater, Alice worked as a professional actor in San Diego and then in Nashville, where she met drummer husband Shannon Ford (who plays on Everything�s Fine). They moved to New York City, where over the next ten years Alice appeared in the original Broadway casts of The Who�s Tommy, Sunset Boulevard, James Joyce�s The Dead, The Rocky Horror Show, and cult favorite Side Show, for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a musical.
All along, she was gathering the material that would become Everything�s Fine. After so much time in the theater, expressing other people�s visions, she felt a great need to create an original self, to put forth a voice defiantly her own. While still appearing onstage in the evenings, she spent days in her apartment, writing with startling honesty about her memories of childhood and home. �I totally feel like Alice in Wonderland, squeezing through the keyhole,� she says of this change. �I feel pushed and pulled and squeezed and sliced, I keep changing sizes and shapes. Trying to fit in�to me it was something I completely related to, because I was always the new kid and I was always trying to fit in anyway I could, to survive.� In this way she has much in common with the character she celebrates in the stirring rhythms of �New Kid:�
The new kid walks to school along the railroad tracks
She�d like to hop a red caboose and never come back
She�s got a tune in her head that nobody knows
But the train and the old black bird they know how it goes
With her work on Everything�s Fine, Alice gives worth and weight to the pain of growing, the accident of living�and in her startling observations, we recognize our own perpetual intransigence. We are always moving but never arriving; we want the moon but settle for make-believe stars on the ceiling. �I�ve never had more confidence about anything I�ve created than I do in this record,� she says. �It�s so purely me�it�s my baby, my soul and my heart, my flesh and my bone. And I know that it�s true.�
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