Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"All the Right Reasons" / The Jayhawks

Continuing on the Valentine's theme...

There are plenty of pop songs about first love and infatuation, but they wear thin after awhile; what we need more of are grown-up songs about love. That's why I keep coming back to this song from the Jayhawks 2003 album Rainy Day Music, which may well have been their last outing (though never fear, half the band -- Gary Louris and Marc Perlman -- probably can be found with the band Golden Smog). Perhaps disbanding was inevitable -- the Jayhawks were one of those bands that kept changing personnel, and changing their sound in the process. I like them best when they stick to this acoustic-Americana style, though, and Rainy Day Music is one lovely album.

The chorus of this song, sung in soft harmonies over an acoustic strum and softly wheezing accordion, tells you most of what you need to know: "I don't know what day it is, I can't recall the seasons / And I don't remember how we got this far / All I know's I'm loving you for all the right reasons / In my sky you'll always be my morning star." Love sneaks up on you sometimes, just like this, and right in the middle of life -- when you're not paying a bit of attention -- you can suddenly realize what matters to you. It has nothing to do with love at first sight, or promising to love somebody forever, or any of those romantic cliches; in fact, those are generally the wrong reasons for being in love. What Gary Louris is describing here is something completely different, a love that sustains a couple through the hard times, a love that helps them move ahead with all the other baggage of life. Grown-up love.

My favorite verse is the second one, where drums and electric guitar join in to lay on a bit of grandeur as Louris steps back for a panoramic perspective. His slightly ragged tenor swoops upward on a climbing melody: "Like a tired bird flying high across the ocean / I was outside looking in/ You made me live again." That sense of weariness and isolation speaks to me; who doesn't want a love that'll overcome that? He goes on to shamelessly steal a line from "God Bless America": "From the mountains to the prairies, little babies / Figures fill their heads / Visions bathed in red." Frankly, I have no idea what he's talking about here, but somehow that just makes me suspect he's writing this to a real woman, and if she understands the code, that's what matters.

In the third verse Louris gives us his "Homeward Bound" moment -- "From the train in Manchester, England / Lightning fills the sky / As I watched you wave goodbye" -- with the accordion swelling underneath, as if his heart is bursting with affection (really, the accordion is a tremendously underrated instrument). Again I picture a real woman, who clearly remembers that farewell in Manchester (the life of a touring musician, such a drag), and that makes it all the more poignant.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want into this relationship -- I'm not lusting for Gary Louris, appealing as those earnest snags in his voice may be. I just want something like this. Grown-up love doesn't come in one-size-fits-all, it's custom tailored. Looking for love is one thing, and often a fruitless quest; finding it on your doorstep is something else. Something wonderful indeed.


Stephen Connolly said...

Fine reflections on one of my favorite records Holly. I must have played it for about a year straight and my wife, also a Jayhawks fan, would chide me for pushing the album because I always had it on when we entertained.

I've got all of their releases but unlike you I prefer the pop direction of Sound Of Lies and Smile best. I regret they didn't have enough success to continue. (Louris is doing OK, he had a cut on the Dixie Chicks' latest)

I remember seeing the band at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on the Sound Of Lies tour and the audience was mostly older male music geeks like me. At one point I made eye contact with Louris and I had a glimmer that perhaps we were both thinking - where are the girls?

Holly A Hughes said...

Sounds like the same audience that was at the Dave Alvin show I saw a couple of weeks ago!

I think we all have a duty to push our favorite records, Stephen. It's a crying shame that wonderful, resonant music like the Jayhawks' can't find more of an audience. Everybody I know who is a Jayhawks fan seems determined to convert others -- that's the kind of loyalty this band inspires...or rather, inspired. Like I said, a crying shame.

Anonymous said...

Great song, Holly. My favourite on Rainy day... is Tailspin.
I think Jayhawks peaked on the album Smile.
Great choice anyway.

Mr L