September 23, 1997. Memphis, Tennessee. Garrison Starr is 22 years old, an Ole Miss dropout, and has just released her first major-label album. Starr is a seasoned performer, rising from her childhood bedroom in Hernando, Mississippi to stages all over Memphis. This is her third album. Straight out of high school, she released Pinwheels, an album she later describes as “the multi-platinum cassette tape from 1993.” Her follow-up Stupid Girl, a seven-song EP, attracted the attention of Geffen Records, and led the way to Eighteen Over Me.
Two decades later, let’s take a look at selections from Eighteen Over Me and how they have evolved over time.
As a followup to the decidedly folk Stupid Girl, Eighteen Over Me could have been Garrison Starr’s Newport. “Grounded” starts off with a bang – or at least a firm stroke of a snare drum that brings in the electric guitar and bass. Fans and critics made accusations of “selling out” to the Geffen executives. With a gritty, electric layer pulled back, though, Starr’s roots poke through. An acoustic version on 1998’s promo CD 24-7 makes it even more apparent that Garrison Starr was taking a step into the rest of her career.
“Superhero” has survived as Eighteen Over Me’s most popular song. Picked up by ABC for its coverage of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, “Superhero” is the plea of a kid – or adult – resisting the requirement to grow up. Issued as a single by Geffen (paired with a radio edit or the album’s title track, depending on which CD single you have a copy of), the song has been released several times since its first appearance. 24-7 includes an alternate edit of the album track as well as an acoustic version. Though recorded with a live band for 2007’s Fans’ Greatest Hits, Volume 1 and live on stage at Washington’s 9:30 Club in 2002*, the definitive version is the slight re-arrangement featured on Airstreams & Satellites from 2004.
(*Garrison Starr Live at the 9:30 Club is erroneously dated November 18, 2000 on CD and digital copies, but was recorded in 2002.)
With a quiet opening, “Passing” lures the listener into a false sense of security before biting with a sharp electric guitar riff. The lyrics “what can I do for you? / don’t you know who I am? / I am worthy / I am Jesus’ right-hand man” issue a challenge to the song’s subject, though there is a hint of self-reflection. The message is one of found self-worth, but it is up to the listener to decide if the brash electric on Eighteen Over Me or the raw acoustic version on 24-7 better suits the mood.
Eighteen Over Me is an album of vulnerabilities, and firmly in the middle, “Ugly” is haunting. It should be no surprise that the song has remained in rotation for two decades with only minor changes. The “clean” version from the album is surpassed by a more raw and exposed solo version recorded for 24-7. A near-identical arrangement appears on Live at Sun Studio with Jay Nash (2010, recorded in 2008), but the most powerful recording closes out 2010’s ReLive, a live album recorded in Nashville with band and strings. In stark contrast to the exposed and alone roots of the song, Starr is joined by a choir of voices as she declares “I’ll be ugly… so you don’t have to be.”
Two years before Eighteen Over Me, “Molly” first appeared on 1995’s Stupid Girl EP. Here, the tempo increases by half, acoustic guitar gives way to electric crunch, and the sweet southern folk in Starr’s voice takes on a slightly sarcastic tone, “Molly” is two minutes and thirty-two seconds of unanswered questions. The acoustic version from 2004’s Something to Hold You Over EP returns to the original tempo, but nearly a decade after the first recording, a more mature voice suggests that Molly should have known what she was getting herself into.
…a more mature voice suggests that Molly should have known what she was getting herself into.
So what has happened to Garrison Starr since 1997? Aside from the aforementioned Women’s World Cup placement for “Superhero,” her songs have appeared on shows such as The Hills and Pretty Little Liars, and she was invited to write original songs for CMT’s revival of Nashville. She has toured extensively supporting Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and as the headlining act. Five additional albums, four solo EPs, two live albums, and collaborations with artists including Jay Nash, Adrianne Gonzalez, Josh Joplin, and Glen Phillips have garnered Starr a passionate base of fans across North America and Europe.
Starr has participated in Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles, performed at Girls Rising BeachFest, and wrote a four-part series for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls entitled “The Stuff We’re Made Of” detailing her career and the challenges of reconciling the conflicting message of the church she grew up in with the actions of its members while finding her place as a gay woman.
Her latest EP, What If There Is No Destination, was released in June 2017.