Friday, August 17, 2012
Monday, August 6, 2012
This is one of those songs that just sort of snuck up on me; I remember not being particularly impressed with it the first time I ever listened to me, whereas these days I think of it both as a really fantastic song and an essential part of the album (although I'm still not totally sold on the "Honolulu/Ashtabula" rhyme - but "Honalula" is kinda funny, when you stop to think about it). This is one of those songs that best benefits from hearing it in the context of the album, as a sweet palate-cleanser after all the venom of the previous song and a charming way to close out Side 1 of the album on vinyl (which is how all the cool kids listen to Blood on the Tracks these days, dontcha know). The pastoral lyrics of the song ("crickets talking back and forth in rhyme", "purple clover, Queen Anne's lace") bring to mind some of the sweeter passages of New Morning; indeed, it's not too far a stretch to imagine this song snugly nestled onto the second half of that album, maybe with some vocal gussying-up to help it fit in with the aesthetic. It's also a New York sessions song, and thus carries the intimacy and sparseness those sessions entailed, while providing a different shade of the regret that those sessions also entailed.
It also offers an actual comparison to Arthur Rimbaud, which would have boggled minds if he'd done it back in 1966 but barely passes with a shrug these days (although I have no idea how that was received in 1975, and Rimbaud doesn't quite carry the same cache as in those halcyon days of Blonde on Blonde). What's interesting is that, once he brings to mind absinthe-fueled screaming matches in Brussels, he immediately takes care to distance the relationship he's singing about from Verlaine and Rimbaud's stormy partnership: "but there's no way I can compare/All them scenes to this affair", another affirmation of how much this lost love really means to him. There's enough accusations, vitriol, and pain spread out on the album that it's kind of nice to have a moment this sweet and gentle to cushion all the blows.
What has always stuck with me, when listening to this song, is how the narrator seems to both know exactly what it is that he has and exactly what it is that he's about to lose, which is not often something that happens when you're about to end a relationship. Every verse seems to be about how his previous dalliances had always been disastrous, or "careless", or any other negative appellation you can think of - but aha, here's the exception, here's the one time that something real is happening and a woman has finally touched him in a way no other woman had. And yet there he is, at the close of every verse, singing "you're gonna make me lonesome when you go" with the weary tone of someone that knows at no matter how many times he sings it, it's not going to do one damn bit of good. He even mentions in the final verse how he'll see her everywhere, much the same way we are reminded of someone we've loved in even the most innocuous moments, as a way of saying "well, you might be leaving, but you'll never actually be leaving", a moment of vulnerability in an album awash with moments of vulnerability. It hurts to hear it, but it's a hurt we all know, and kind of comforting in that sense.
And that, of course, is maybe the greatest reason people return again and again to this album - the comfort, cold as it may be, of having our greatest songwriter tell us that which we feel but cannot express. One wishes that he hadn't had to go through that heartache to bring forth such a diamond, but that's long in the past now. Only the greatness remains. Read more!