"I'm thirty-four years old now, and I've come to you..." I can't fully explain why this opening line always hooks its sinewy fingers around my heart, but it does.
Maybe it's the specific detail of the age, sung in John's shrewd, wary Hoosier twang -- so we know we're in confessional mode here, and the man standing before us maybe has a couple crow's-feet at the corners of his eyes, the hairline's retreating a bit, perhaps his plaid shirt is a little faded from washing. Thirty-four years old: Not over the hill yet, but face it, he don't get carded no more.
All his romantic illusions were shot down a long time ago, and as he picks deftly on his acoustic guitar, his shoulder is hitched high, fending off more hurt. He squints long and hard at the new woman who has wormed into his life, and as he runs over a catalog of all his lousy love affairs -- "From that first kiss in the schoolyard / To the last heart broke in two" -- he realizes that, against all odds, just when he had abandoned all hope, This Is The Big One.
Not exactly the sort of song that's gonna fly on Top 40 radio. But you see, that's what I love about John Hiatt's music: This is Music For Grownups. I'm sure I wouldn't have thought this was a sexy song when I was 14 years old, pining away for Paul McCartney or Davy Jones or whoever the pop flavor of the month was back then. I did NOT want to be told that love is hard work. I still believed in love at first sight, and love forever and ever, and preferably I'd like to find it in time to have a date to the junior prom.
But now . . . well, I find this song devastatingly sexy. I feel like this is a real man, who'd still be around the morning after a fight. Someone you can cry in front of without minding that your eyes are puffing up and your nose streaming snot. Someone who'd forgive the hurtful things you screamed at him during labor pains; someone who'd adopt your half-grown kids and call them his own. And that's the sort of stuff I find sexy now.
Okay, John Hiatt's voice is pretty damn sexy in its own right: soulful, with just a slight raspy edge that can turn into a snarl or a caress at any moment. It sends shivers up my spine anyway. But still, it's Hiatt the songwriter that speaks to me, not just Hiatt the performer; and "Learning How to Love You" -- that one gets me every time.