Monday, November 12, 2007

“She’s Already Made Up Her Mind” / Lyle Lovett

Is there any sound in the world lonelier than the drawn-out twang of a pedal steel guitar? I’m listening here to this song from Lyle Lovett’s 1992 album Joshua Judges Ruth, and there’s a single quavering note, repeating over and over like a faraway train whistle, that just give me goosebumps.

I used to think Lyle Lovett was a country singer. After Joshua Judges Ruth, that image was shattered forever. Despite that pedal steel, this track features an elegant piano counterpoint that’s way more jazz lounge than roadhouse; the acoustic guitar and drums are held firmly in the background, letting Lyle’s hushed, melancholy vocal shimmer on its own. The lyrics are brooding, reflective, artfully unrhymed, plunging us into a fraught mood rather than telling a story. “She said something about going home,” he launches into it, adding uncertainly, “she said something about needing to spend some time alone” (almost whispering “alone,” as if he can barely choke it out). That word “something” is so arresting; the details are irrelevant, because he knows as well as she does that going home is just an excuse. “She wondered out loud what it was she had to find,” he continues, then stoically, softly, concludes, “She’s already made up her mind.”

Made up her mind to do what? Lyle never tells us, but this whole song is steeped in regret (all those diminished chords); I have to guess it’s the end for them. His friends have been predicting it (she’s too young, they warn), and even the standard folk-ballad vocabulary (“There is nothing so deep as the ocean / And there is nothing so high as the sky / And there’s nothing so unwavering as a woman / Who’s already made up her mind”) clue us in to how inevitable that farewell is.

And yet he resists saying it out loud, for that would destroy his last shred of hope. I love how Lyle portrays himself, hanging on her every word, trying desperately to guess what’s going on inside her head. He’s like a private eye, hunting for evidence: “Now she’s sitting at one end of the kitchen table / And she is staring without an expression / And she is talking to me without meeting my eyes / She’s already made up her mind.” That last line falls like a sentence of death.

Can we ever really read somebody else’s mind? Tons of love songs have been written about “my baby thinks this” and “my lover wants that,” just perpetuating the great romantic lie. And now here’s Lyle, admitting freely that a) he hasn’t got a clue, and b) he knows he never will – not because he’s stupid, but because the woman he loves is a separate person. The very fact that he recognizes that, and respects it, makes him a hundred times more sensitive than any guy who claims to be a mind reader.

It’s a perfect song for Lyle’s supple, edgy voice; it’s a perfect song for his wary, introspective persona. (Lyle may be a Texan, but he's never seemed like a good ol’ boy.) And when that pedal steel sends out that one sorrowful note, like a shooting star across the wide East Texas skies -- well, it’s perfect, and perfectly heartbreaking.

She's Already Made Up Her Mind sample

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