The Exploding Kinetoscope's personal patron saint turns 36 this October 29, and today the paens to her ring from on high. One can make a mix-tape consisting entirely of songs about Winona Ryder. Songs by those who loved her from up-close and from afar. Perhaps because pop music is best at depicting subtle gradations of romantic misery, every one of them - excepting several novelty records - is a written from some state of agony over Ms. Ryder, be it resentful, pitying (Old 97's' "Rollerskate Skinny" is a bit of both, in which Rhett Miller, who scored one date with the lady, sort-of laments his inability to go on more dates) or longing (Matthew Sweet fantasizing about trying to call Ryder, who doesn't answer the phone in "Winona"). The finest of these, however, chronicle the possibilities of the universal Winona to be found in the specific Winona, making them more than filksong fantasia or musical scandal sheet.
Beck's heart-fatigued "Lost Cause" from 2002's Sea Change, with a simplicity both lush and tender, burrows into the detailed pain of the Hansen/Ryder breakup that it comes out the other side, and is about every breakup. Beck slurs thickly through all possible scenarios of blame and regret; first the lost cause is him, then L.A., then the relationship itself, then her. Ultimately, he decides that whoever might be declared Most Responsible, there comes a point when one lays down arms, or blows every mental circuit by endlessly retracing the paths of loss. The Winona Ryders in your life are too much work to deal with. The Winona Ryders in yourself, troubled, fickle, love-crazy, will keep pushing on, landing in the same messes, baffled every time.
Bostonian shoegazers the Drop Nineteens placed Ryder at the center of their 1992 single from Delaware, "Winona". Amid the bright, woozy drone of their three bicycle-chaining guitars, the dainty monotone melody speaks of a planet spinning too fast for those stuck to the surface, and ponders: how fares Winona Ryder through this world? Her petite frame is slung from record shop to outer space to the brink of a chasm in time itself. A step into the microcosm outside Winona Ryder's front door lands her on the astrogeological Xanadu, before they finger her for Coleridge's damsel with the dulcimer. The Nineteens seem to have decided that as we the plummet into the "gap in the 20th century" which "fills the world with dreams," either Ryder is the ideally suited traveller, or indeed, emblematizes a generation as Winona Ryders, all, for better or worse.
Ryder as Icon is a link in the short, vital chain of the anti-star, inescapably bohemian, those key generational touchstone celebrities, who cannot be tamed by the gossamer glamour expected of the prefab model. No matter how good she looks in a vintage '40s evening gown, no matter how many Matt Damons or Best Supportings they try to marry her off to, she's the chain-smoker with dyed black hair and Tom Waits collection crashing the party. Winona Ryder is our Louise Brooks, here to perpetually cut through the bullshit even as she willingly pariticpates. We need those stars, glorious messes as they are. By "we", read: the glorious messes of the world.
There she is, in Alien: Resurrection, bitching and moaning that an android would be created with feelings, and reveling in how good it feels to feel sorry for yourself. There she is, in Reality Bites, a fake-o stand-in for the most irony-drenched generation of Americans, sputtering that she cannot define "irony." There she is in Bram Stoker's Dracula, yelping "I love you! Oh, God forgive me, I do!", halfheartedly begging forgiveness for her self-centered devotion to Dracula, who is, rationally, surely the wrong guy, and total bad news, but impossibly attentive and makes such grand romantic gestures. There she is, walking the screen as your silly impulses, your cloudy judgment, your sorta-bad, well-intentioned choices. There she is as the Rolling Stone Hot List cover girl in 1991 (her second time as designated Hot Actress!). The article mentions an abandoned project in which Winona Ryder would play "a female Jesus." Somehow, no casting could be more apt.
Happy Birthday, Ms. Ryder. I don't know what we'd would do without you.
Bonus: The Drop Nineteens video for "Winona". As per '90s alterna rock rule, the video has little to nothing to do with the song.