Fiona Apple
Photo: John Shearer/WireImage.com
Some people go on hikes or meditation retreats to gain clarity. I take a slightly less ambitious approach—one that involves pajamas, slippers, and, ideally, a Columbo marathon.

A few years ago, when I was thinking about getting out of the music business—touring terrified me, talking to journalists stressed me out, dealing with the demands of my record company was impossible—I decided to stay with my mother in New York City. I put on a ratty old bathrobe, parked myself in front of the TV, and tried to figure out what to do with my life. During commercials I alternately stared out the window and filled out an application to intern with an organization that provided occupational therapy to kids.

One day as I lay on the couch, my manager called. "A bunch of journalists are interested in talking to you," he said. "You know, about the Free Fiona movement."

"Pardon me?" I said. "What is the Free Fiona movement?"

A year earlier, I'd asked my record company to let me rerecord the songs on my unfinished album; I'd worked really hard writing them and wanted the chance to experiment. They agreed—on one condition: They would have veto power over the final product. I decided that I would rather shelve the project than give anybody that sort of control. Hence the bathrobe as uniform.

Now, my manager explained, a group of people from around the world were rallying to get the album released. They were convinced the record company had trashed it because it didn't have a hit, and they were mad—so mad that they kept sending the company all kinds of apple stuff—apple stickers, apple drawings, anything to do with apples.

"That's ridiculous," I said, and hung up laughing. These people were trying to get my work into the world while I was following the fictional escapades of a short, brilliant detective with a glass eye.

"Mom," I said, "there's a group of people sending apple stuff around, hoping to get Extraordinary Machine out."

"That's funny, sweetie," she said absently.

Then, still laughing, I walked to the kitchen, where I sat down and promptly began to sob. Every day from when I was 9 to when I was 14, I'd sat at that very table and wondered if I'd ever have friends who loved and understood me. I believed the day would never come when a bunch of people would say, "Hey, let's call Fiona over, because things would be better if she were here." Nobody would ever notice I was missing, I thought. But these Free Fiona enthusiasts, men and women I'd never met, had noticed that I wasn't in the room. And they wanted me back. They thought things would be better if I were there.

I felt all doors close around me; only one stayed open—it led back to music, and I had to step through it. As it turned out, the record company acceded to the demand of the Free Fiona activists, and a few months later I was back in the studio. If somebody wants me in the room, I realized, I had better show up.