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Song of the Day: Ani DiFranco, “You Had Time” (updated)

Update: fixed link to the song

Ani DiFranco features prominently on a wide range of my playlists—from the one for politics to “faves,”  from love songs to the one for songs that seem to be about me. And of course the playlists for love, for ex-girlfriends and for heartbreak, on all of which appears this song:

out of range.jpg

Ani DiFranco, “You Had Time” – from Out of Range (1994)

Village Voice described the album as “Pound for pound, the funniest, hurtingest Ani DiFranco outing thus far.” Certainly true at the time, though perhaps no longer. I might pick Up Up Up Up Up Up (1999)—or possibly the earlier Puddle Dive (1993)—as funniest, and Little Plastic Castle (1998) as hurtingest, though there’s plenty of competition for the latter title. But while Out of Range may no longer be the funniest or hurtingest, it remains clearly one of if not the finest and most consistent of all DiFranco’s albums, and my usual choice for introducing anyone to her work.

A common critical take on DiFranco is that she is perhaps too productive for her own good. Her output of an album every year or so means that each album includes a few less successful tracks; if she put albums out a bit less often, the argument goes, she’d be able to pack each album with a stronger selection of tracks. Rolling Stone once described her work as slack, meaning I think her musical craft within each song, but while many might quibble with that, it is true that her album construction, her willingness to edit herself at that level, does seem to many to be… slack.

The common response of Ani’s fans to this critical take is: phooey. They—I—would rather have more albums from her than less, and a second-rate track or somewhat uneven album by Ani is more engaging and interesting than most of the other stuff that’s out there. I think what’s going on here actually—in the disconnect between the critical and fan responses to Ani’s work—is a conflict between different ideas of musical production and consumption, between ideas of what music is and how it should be, how it should work in our culture/society. But that’s a topic I’ll have to defer to another time, another column…

One of the things, though, that makes Out of Range so successful and such a good introduction to Ani’s work is that there’s less filler, fewer minor tracks on it than on any of her other albums. Except perhaps for Little Plastic Castles—which I tend to feel may be her solidest album from a purely musical/critical perspective, but which seems to me… it’s difficult to say—the least Ani of all her albums? Less typical, anyway. Out of Range is very typical of Ani’s work in the 1990s, archetypal even—and so a great place to start with her music, even though she has been moving in different directions in her more recent work.

I suppose, really, that Canon, her two-disc collection of “canonical” tracks—a “greatest hits” for someone who has never had a hit in the conventional sense—is the obvious choice for an introduction to Ani’s work, but I’m a bit old school; I tend to prefer to discover artists and their music in the way that they discovered and created it, album by album, rather than in compilations. Out of Range has a coherence to it that I find appealing in that way. And, of course, the slacker tracks on any album are part of Ani’s work too, and you miss that aspect of the relationship between Ani and her audience with Canon.

Well, so much for the album. What of the song, what of “You Had Time”?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , ,

Song of the Day: “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”

And since we are back in heartbreak territory…

Lyle Lovett, “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind” – from Joshua Judges Ruth (1992)

It’s a strange thing. You go through life thinking you don’t like country music, then you go to the record store to pick up some Lyle Lovett and Gillian Welch and they send you to… the country section. It’s a real shock. Of course, you’d always made an exception for the Man in Black, but this is… Well, it’s just hard. It shakes your world view, having to go to the country section.

The album this song is from – Joshua Judges Ruth – came out one year before Lovett’s marriage to Julia Roberts, so I’ve often wondered who it might be about. Just as I wonder, listening to some more recent Sheryl Crow, if any of the songs have to do with Lance Armstrong… But to get back to that complaint I made earlier about how few rock songs just tell stories, maybe these songs don’t have any autobiographical elements, maybe they’re just stories.

One last thought: when Roberts and Lovett married, people made all sorts of comments about “Beauty and the Beast,” but I actually think Lovett looks quite lovely here in this video, in a quirky and intellectual sort of way.

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Song of the Day: Jonatha Brooke is trying to break my heart.

Back to maudlin self-indulgence… You have been warned.

One of these days, I’ll get around to writing about playlists. I have a lot of them, and have been known to spend whole days under my headphones, fine-tuning them and making new ones. Among my many playlists are a number devoted to ex-girlfriends, and also a “depression” playlist. That’s music that will bring me down hard if I’m in a good mood, but which is deeply comforting when I am already down there in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. Like now.

Jonatha Brooke shows up with alarming frequency on the playlists devoted to the most significant loves of my life, and also has a number of tracks on the “depression” playlist. She crops up elsewhere—for instance, with a track on my Memorial Day playlist (“War“)—but her disproportionate representation on my ex-girlfriend and depression playlists, as well as her tracks on my “love” playlist, lead me to this conclusion: She is trying to break my heart.

She blames it on her fans: “People want to hear the really sad, maudlin songs…. They want to be moved. They want to have their hearts broken… That’s why I love music. It makes me weep.”

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You can browse through most of Jonatha Brooke’s music and listen to samples—and buy the records—on her official website. Here are some of the ones that appear on those playlists. Most of them are sad—the only ones that are at all upbeat are the first and last—and all of them are about love in one way or another. And I’ll be listening to them all a lot over the next few months. Jonatha’s right; I want to have my heart broken.

The Story – The Angel in the House (1993)

So Much Mine
Love Song

Jonatha Brooke & The Story – Plumb (1995)

Is This All?

10 Cent Wings (1997)

Crumbs – Live at the River Music Hall
Because I Told You
Blood From A Stone
Shame On Us

Jonatha Brooke Live (1999)

Because I Told You So

Steady Pull (2001)


Which ones do I like the most—which make me weep the most or easiest? The live version of “Because I Told You So.” But take a look at the number of tracks from 10 Cent Wings. That’s a sad album.

To be fair, she’s not the only one trying to break my heart, based on her appearances in the heartbreak playlist, Tori Amos is just as bad. I really am a big wet hen.

Jonatha Brooke (b. January 23, 1964) is an American folk rock singer-songwriter and guitarist from Illinois. Her music is notable for merging elements of folk, rock and pop, often with poignant lyrics and complex harmonies. She has been a consistent performer, writer, and artist since the late 1980s, and her songs have been used in popular television shows and movies… (via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Sirens of Song: Jonatha Brooke.

Filed under: Autobiography, Song of the Day, ,

If we were Bogie and Bacall

If I were Bogie and she were Bergman, we would have found some way to part that made sense, that didn’t just leave our shared history a shattered wreck. If I were Bogie and she were Bacall, and Jules Furthman and William Faulkner told us what to say, maybe we could have made it work. But even now…

I’m hard to get, Steve. All you have to do is ask me.

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Filed under: Autobiography, Movies,

Poem: Stephen Dobyns, “Rain Song”


The woods are full of men with umbrellas –
the butcher from Roy’s Market, the mechanic
who fixed my car – they are looking for you.
They heard of a woman lying naked in the fields:
that was you. For days you lay in the north pasture
to encourage spring, as the sun touched your thighs,
your belly and breasts, and was at last so
disconcerted that the sky clouded over
and the president of rain took you for his wife.
You wore blue to the wedding; even the crows sang.
Now, hurrying through the trees, the black umbrellas
do not realize that it is you dripping from juniper
and birch, forming puddles, then rivulets and
running downhill to the river flowing through town.
The people of Peterborough bathe in your body.
They drink glass after glass and say they feel better.
They smash their televisions and prepare to go dancing.
The fat town clerk and tax consultant, legions
of Republicans removing their clothes, baton twirlers
and firemen’s band – all march naked through the street,
banging cymbals and drums as you touch them,
blowing their horns as you run down their backs,
tumbling at last into lascivious piles on this
rainy Sunday they will long remember but which you
have already forgotten as you flow down to the sea
into the stories of sailors and promiscuous fish,
and past that small promontory where I stand,
body greased and waiting for the long swim.


from Heat Death (New York: Atheneum, 1980).
See also: Velocities: New and Selected Poems: 1966-1992 (Penguin, 1994).

We’ve been speaking of loss, and in particular of the loss of love, heartbreak, the end of a relationship, so this may seem like a real shift in tone: a poem about love. A love poem, in fact.

Of course there is obviously an intimate (no pun intended) connection between love and heartbreak—one requires the other. But beyond the truism that you can only have your heart broken if you are in love (or as Neil Young put it, only love can break your heart), there is a somewhat deeper and more compelling connection: you can only fall in love if you are ready to have your heart broken. Opening yourself to love requires that you open yourself to loss.

But as to the poem…

I discussed another poem by Dobyns from this same volume earlier, and the two make an interesting pair. Where “Oatmeal” said no, no to a woman who wanted a relationship, “Rain Song” is a big yes.

Yes to love, yes to sex, yes to the possibilities of life, and yes to the pleasures of smart and sexy poetry—yes I said yes I will Yes

I love the pacing of this poem:

The woods are full of men with umbrellas –
the butcher from Roy’s Market, the mechanic
who fixed my car – they are looking for you.
They heard of a woman lying naked in the fields:
that was you.

At the end of each of these two sentences, the bit about it being her/you brings a fairly emphatic stop to the flow. They are declarative sentences, complete and final—and powerfully direct, declamatory as much as declarative. They start us out in a very direct, prosaic way.

Then we get this big, scrumptious, sexy pudding that follows as he describes her lying naked in the field “as the sun touched your thighs / your belly and breasts.” In the beginning, we might have been in a fairly quotidian realm. Women do after all lie naked in fields in the real world, though perhaps not as often as we might like. But with that pudding of a sentence that follows, that ends with the “president of rain” taking her for his wife, we are clearly in the realm of myth, myths of fertility and spring. But crucially not the darker myth of Persephone, trapped into her marriage with Hades. The president of rain sounds like a much better catch.

And the poem gets wilder after that. The Dionysian orgy that follows and comprises the bulk of the poem, as the woman becomes one with the rain and washes over the town, still has a mythic quality, but in the details—wearing blue to the wedding, the black umbrellas, the crows who sing—it also has, for me at least, a magical realist quality. The whole extended passage calls to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his happier moments.

This passage is liquid. It’s really the best word for it. Beyond the obvious liquid content, it drips, then collects then flows through the poem.

It’s an easy thing to praise, but much, much harder to do, this marrying of form and content. Finding a diction, punctuation and rhythm that instantiates the moments and qualities you are trying to convey, a kind of objective correlative. Emily Dickinson is one of the great masters of this, which is why she is the mother of so much that is great in American poetry. In Dickinson, though, this melding of form and content is usually precise, fine-grained, and devastating. She does it best, and most often, when what is at stake is hard and painful, and punctuation is the main weapon she wields when she goes for blood in this way.

In “Rain Song,” Dobyns achieves that marrying of form and content through rhythm more generally—through flow, appropriately enough, since he’s describing a spring rain storm. The drips becoming rivulets, conjoining and flowing, people splashing in the puddles. It’s all there. Look at the last half of the poem—it’s one long burbling brook of sentence, beginning with the fat town clerk and running all the way down to the sea.

You already know I’m a sappy sentimentalist. I have almost no critical distance on this poem. Is it a great poem? Well, what is a great poem? It’s not as great as, say, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” but what does that mean anyway? I discovered this poem during the early days of the first real love of my life. And of course I gave it to that love, who fortunately shared both my sappiness and my love of poetry—shared it with her, bathed in it with her, and it is forever bound up in my mind with being in my 20s and finally understanding what all the fuss was about. Not sex, I’d learned about that already, but love.

I’m not such a sappy sentimentalist, though, that this poem has remained forever bound up with that time, and that relationship. I’ve shared it since with other women I’ve loved—and I encourage you to do the same—because it is just such a sexy love poem.

And it knows about love, is smart about love. The last line—”body greased and waiting for the long swim”—is so great, not just for its sexy extension of the “woman as water” shtick that runs (no pun intended) through the poem. What really makes that last line a knockout is the twist, the new element it brings into the poem.

Love has been fun and, let’s be honest, a bit goofy up to now, but when he says “waiting for the long swim,” it is suddenly serious, dangerous and scary even. That’s a real twist. Dobyns sweeps you up in the pleasure of his language and the goofy magical realist imagery, but at the end he reminds you of how deep, serious and powerful love really is. It’s there in the drawn out rhythm—a marrying of form and content, again, with the line being a “long swim” rather an iambic splash. It’s there in the image of a long swim, and swimming alone out to sea. It’s really something.

Filed under: Poetry,

Song of the Day: Dusty Springfield, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”

A great song penned by the dynamic duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, from whom we’ll be hearing a lot more, I’m sure…

Dusty Springfield, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” (1964) – from Dusty: the Very Best of Dusty Springfield

A really great song, and a great performance. Why aren’t we listening to more Dusty Springfield?

But actually what prompted me to spin this as my “Song of the Day” was the comparison/connection to my earlier discussion of Dar Williams’ “It Happens Every Day.”

This is another song of lost love:

I’m so used to doing everything with you
Planning everything for two
And now that we’re through…
I just don’t know what to do with my time.
I’m so lonesome for you it’s a crime.

She’s crushed. Going to a movie only makes her sad. Parties make her feel as bad. She doesn’t know what to do.

But how different from Dar William’s isolation and loss, as she turns away, in “It Happens Every Day.”

With Dusty, we have a song that is upfront about its loss, pours it out in the words, doesn’t hold anything back. We don’t have to wait until the last line to find out that the “you” is gone. Her lover has gone, she’s lonely and sad and she lets us know all about it.

Unlike Dar, who keeps it hid – who doesn’t speak of it. But as I tried to describe, even if Dar doesn’t say it, the music sings it, all through the song – a thin wire of grief.

In “I Just Don’t Know..,” the music works at cross purposes to Dusty’s broken heart. The horns, the soaring strings, the lush arrangements… Musically, it’s all terrific, but it’s not “D minor, which I always find is really the saddest of all keys, really. I don’t know why, but it makes people weep instantly…”

Why not? Why is a song ostensibly about a breakup, about lost love, so full and lush musically?

I think part of the answer is there in the words. Dusty sings of being “so lonesome for you it’s a crime” and ends by singing “I’m still so crazy for you. / I don’t know what else to do.”

She’s still in love. And in fact even in her broken-up state, her ex still fills her life, love still fills and structures her life. At parties, at the movies, her ex (he or she – who knows? Don’t ask, don’t tell.) is still a presence even in their absence, and Dusty is still in love.

The lost love is really lost in “It Happens Every Day.” It’s gone, just like the you. We don’t even learn of their existence until the last word of the last line of the song. Every day happens without it, and without him or her. And then she turns away…

Dusty is a teenager here, an adolescent –  reveling, really, in the power and poignancy of a broken heart, still crazy in love, and everything about the song tells us that love still shapes her life, still fills it, and another love will come along any minute. The strings will carry Dusty through, carry her to it. “Crazy for you.” Powerful pop.

Dar is a grown women who has lost, and she knows it. She watches the kids, who are not hers, bends to her work, turns away – alone. “Without you.”

I’m a grown man. And a music lover. And as a music lover trying to think critically about music, I can see that in certain ways Dusty Springfield’s recording of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” is a better song. But as a grown man dealing with loss, “It Happens Every Day” is the one that speaks to me, that I turn away to.

For more…

Filed under: Autobiography, Song of the Day, ,

Song of the Day – and Heartbreak

I’m having my heart broken. Actually, it’s been going on all year, but the process is entering a new and powerful phase now, as I am about to leave for good the hemisphere in which my heart will stay.

Heartbreak is a funny thing. You say “she or he broke my heart” – it sounds like a discrete event. It happened then and here we are now. It seems to me, though, that it’s more like your heart is always in the process of being broken, over and over, on and on. It’s not an event that happened, or even a process that is happening. It is total – your heart was broken – and at the same time continual – your heart is being broken – and also still to come – it will break, over and over, in the next minute, the next hour, the next day. It’s outside of time.

Or… It happens every day. You wake up, groggy, look out into the grey light of morning through sleep-encrusted eyes – and your heart breaks all over again as you see the hole in your life, your world. It happens every day. And you are inconsolable, still, again.

Dar Williams, “It Happens Every Day” – from The Green World (2000)

Jonatha Brooke & The Story, “Inconsolable” – from Plumb (1995)

I’ve never studied music and I can’t play an instrument (though I’ve been trying to learn the Irish tin whistle). Attempting to put into words precisely what it is about these that makes them sad, I am reminded of Nigel, in Spinal Tap, who says of a song he’s writing that it is “in D minor, which I always find is really the saddest of all keys, really. I don’t know why, but it makes people weep instantly…”

I don’t know if these songs are in D minor, but there is clearly something in their sound that does much of the work of producing their sadness. And they did make me weep instantly last night.

Dar Williams‘ song, “It Happens Every Day” is not on the surface, in its words, an obviously sad song. Certainly it is not the conventional “heartbreak” song.

She starts out singing that “the first part of every day for me is good” and describing, with apparent pleasure, the kids playing outside her house in the morning. Where is the sadness? It seems to me that it is there as a tone, or undertone, in the music from the very beginning, even when she is singing that the day starts “good.” It comes in more powerfully near the end of the verse describing the mothers and children at the bus stop, when she observes one mother who waits until her child leaves on the bus and “then she turns away.” But it’s a small thing, and it is really the music rather than the words that alerts us to the pain here.

She sings about the college town where she lives, watching students bent over their books and “practicing their smiles.” And—it is not clear immediately whether it is her or the students—”even underlining Nabokov / when I am not in love.” It’s the first time the words have come out and spoken directly of love, and in its lack the sadness and yearning that has been there in the music since the beginning. We’ve been waiting for it—the heartbreak that the music warns us of—but it’s still not clear. We know there is more going on here than simply not being in love.

Watching the world again, she sees the students doing their work and “with every new idea, wondering if they’ve changed it all. / Then they look away…” There it is again—that moment of turning away. Not out of fear. Turning away from human connection, turning back into one’s self. And we realize that she is alone, watching a mother left alone, students studying alone, who practice their smiles in the hope of love, but then “they look away.”

It’s a complicated song, complicated about love and loss and need and sadness. About being alone, and turning away.

The narrative, the words of the song are not especially sad, though as the song progresses we get these flashes, these moments of ache—when “she turns away, “when I am not in love,” when “they look away.” But most of the work of conveying the pain and poignancy is done by that musical quality I am not equipped to describe, that “D minor.”

The end is fierce:

It happens every day, at the crossing of the street,
looking out to see what’s new and what is just the same,
and the only word for love is everybody’s name.
That will always stay.
It happens every day,
and every day will happen without you…

and we wait for her to go on, but that’s it. “Every day will happen without you.”

The whole song has been leading up to that, has been about that—about being “without you,” about a loss, a lost you, that we only learn of directly here, now, at the end, but which has been there all along, in those moments of separation and solitude, of loss. And, crucially, in the music.

Watching the students “practicing their smiles,” trying to study Nabokov when you are not in love, watching the mother send her child off to school and turn away with a pang of separation. A small loss that echoes and prefigures the larger losses, the fears of all those losses.

We’ve known all along that the song was leading up to this, because even when the words were oblique, the music told us. Even though the first part of every day is good, that moment when you are just waking, still every day will happen without you. Your heart breaks all over again. You are inconsolable. And you turn away.

Filed under: Autobiography, Song of the Day, ,

Song of the Day: Jonatha Brooke, “Because I Told You So”

Jonatha Brooke – “Because I Told You So”Jonatha Brooke Live

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,



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is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.



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