"Crawl Back (Under My Stone)" / Richard Thompson
Even though it's not January 1, I've made a New Year's resolution: I don't have to make a Big Fan Commitment to every artist I come across. Richard Thompson, for example -- I've kept putting off falling in love with Richard Thompson, because I know it'd be falling into a black hole. This guy's so good, with such a long, convoluted career, I could easily get obsessed. There just isn't room in my life for ANOTHER artist like that.
But really, I could get to know a few songs by the guy, couldn't I? I'll skip the Fairport Convention years (they were too folky for me back then) and the years he recorded with his then-wife Linda -- that still leaves a lot of material to browse. Thanks to a wonderful elf in Milwaukee, I have a CD of handpicked Thompson tracks, every one of which went straight onto my iPod. This stuff is Kwality with a capital K. This particular song comes from his 1999 album Mock Tudor, which I'm now tempted to buy in its entirety (somebody stop her -- it's gonna be John Hiatt all over again!).
In my new spirit of restraint, I refuse to think about Thompson as an ace guitarist ("Sacrilege!" I hear you guitar geeks cry.) There are plenty of nimble riffs here; I love how they interweave with the organ lines; that's all I have to say. What I want to talk about is his songwriting -- that supple melodic line, how it winds neurotically around, matched to a fretful, scolding syncopated rhythm. This is a particularly vicious break-up song, and the tune fits perfectly.
I would NOT want to be on the receiving end of this song. "This time you hurt me, you really did it this time, / You did," he starts out testily, adding, "Did you count your fingers after shaking my hand / God forbid?" Yeesh, that's pissed off; these wounds he's licking are still pretty fresh. He peevishly recalls the latest insult -- "'Riff raff / Crawling from the slums' / Right there / In front of all your chums" -- and declares: "I swear by the pricking of my thumbs / I'll make your day / And melt away." (Love that Macbeth reference, by the way -- nothing makes a woman look worse than being compared to Lady Macbeth, does it?)
It all builds up to a spitting-mad chorus, as he insists three times: "I'll crawl back (crawl back) under my stone." But before he crawls back, he's still determined to have the last word: "But you won't have to stand next to me / You won't have to introduce me / You won't have to think about, talk about, care about me." (Later on he dredges up more snide verbs for what she's been doing to him -- "You won't have to ask about, fuss about, discuss about / You won't have to mind about, swear about, forget about me.")
This isn't just a break-up song, it's a song about snobbery and class. The stone he's crawling back under is the primitive cave she considers he's come from ("rude," "scruffy," those are her terms he's quoting). When he tells us in the bridge "I want to be middle class / Floors and ceilings made of glass," the class thing is heavily freighted. (I just sat here for five minutes thinking about that glass floor, how we're just as paranoid about what's below us as above us.) "Somehow I gave myself away," he adds in the third verse, voice curling with disgust, "Some code, some word I didn't say / I missed one line in the play / And the trap shut tight / And you did me, all right." He never had a chance with this chick, did he?
And so, of course, we take his side. He's skewed our picture of the relationship so thoroughly, we have no choice. He could have been a total boor (albeit one who quotes Shakespeare and can play genius guitar); all we see is her finicky disdain. So he's just going to leave quietly and not bother her anymore . . . except for this little song. Note to self: never break up badly with a song writer this good. He'll get you, he'll get you in the end.
Crawl Back (Under My Stone) sample