There are not many songs, whole albums even that I can bring myself to write of, let alone think, as possessing a wistful sadness and indisputable touch with reality. I keep such poeticisms when I’m describing books. And books no less than Tender is the Night or maybe a Hemingway late efflorescence like A Moveable Feast. Yet I’m using those very words describe This Desert Life by the Counting Crows. I never thought before musicians could be classed as geniuses. That popular art could transcend its cheap button entertainment. But these guys have proven me very wrong. The depth of the things they talk about, how so simply and memorably they say them is awesome. Its like listening to a Keats poem sung.
A song like I wish I was a girl. It’s a whole novel in itself. There’s the woman’s side of the story and there’s the man’s. Although it’s a man singing, by virtue of the fact that the writer/singer was in creating mode, somehow he manages to be a man and woman at the same time. To be androgynous. First he tells us the woman’s story. He sings about how, “the devil… tells you I’m not sleeping in my hotel room alone. With nothing to believe in you dive into the traffic rising up and it’s so quiet. You are surprised and then you awake.” Powerful feminine emotions of suspicion when a woman believes a man is going way not to better both of them but to leave her for good are being touched upon here. Yet how he how so divinely makes them sound simple to decipher and understand and yet by explaining them so simply he makes them more eloquent by this simple way of phrasing.
Then the man’s part in this story of emotional discordance comes in. He knows how much he’s hurting her. She does not believe he’s going away to make their fortune because of his past treatment of her and admits, “For all the things you’re losing, you might as well resign yourself to try and make a change.” He’s doing this “going down to Hollywood, they are gonna make a movie from the things that they find crawling round my brain” for her but he doesn’t believe he’ll not fail her when he’s gone to Hollywood and he’s encouraging her to get ready to dump him. He wants her to hurt him and not for him to hurt her again. Yet at the same time he moans, “I wish I was a girl so that you could believe me,” because in spite of how sure he is that what’s he doing is for her own good, he can’t “shake this static when I try to sleep.” The static is his guilt that maybe he really wants to leave her and he just can’t bring himself to admit that he ants to leave her and she doesn’t deserve the treatment he’s putting her though. And all this before we are even in the middle of the entire song!
Reams of novel paper covered in less than three minutes. Incoherent emotions of months’ gestation as neatly drawn as the curve of storm on a weather graph. Before this extraordinarily nuanced song is over, the man will have traveled a whole lifetime’s arc of experience. He will have come from excusing his callous treatment of a woman who truly loved him for his work to admitting that he was doing this all for his own selfish ego to a lonely and pained realization of what he has thrown away. And yet to top if all off, he knows he can’t go back even if she could take him back, she might actually want to take him back, but he must stay away from her for her own good. He’s moved from being a selfish prick to a selfless saint.
This is just one song, ladies and gents! This is the range and greatness of one miserly track on a whole album full of such in depth, wonderful songs. Genius is strange and wonderful and there is no better album to get and listen to and wonder at it’s mysterious and beautiful working.