Friday, August 08, 2008

"Cry Love" / John Hiatt

I spent yesterday evening most pleasantly on a sunset cruise around lower Manhattan -- not the sort of touristy thing I'd usually do, but when the on-board talent is John Hiatt and the Ageless Beauties, well, I was so there.

So let's put aside the fact that John Hiatt deserves to play classier venues, and focus on how cool it was to be gliding along the water listening to these guys blast their music out over the harbor. (As John put it, with a little sideways grin, "We know how to rock. AND roll." I'm sure I've heard him say that line before, but it bears repeating. How many rock musicians have forgotten how to roll? John hasn't.) We'd pass other boats along the way -- a sleek little sailboat, the Staten Island Ferry -- and we'd lean over the rails and holler, "We've got John Hiatt here -- and you don't!!!" Yes, we were that goofy. Hey, if you're a John Hiatt fan, chances are you long ago stopped worrying about looking cool.

And there was one utterly transcendent moment -- John was about halfway through "Cry Love," one of his most passionate anthems to heartbreak -- and the Statue of Liberty slid into view right behind him, with the setting sun blazing all over her robe and crown. John must have heard the collective gasp of wonder, because he turned around and caught sight of her himself -- and I swear, he gave a little whoop of joy. I'll bet he'd entirely forgotten where he was playing, he was so into the magic circle of him and his band, slamming down that incredible song.

What I love about John Hiatt is how deeply he gets human nature. I don't know anybody else who writes such tough-minded apologias for men behaving badly ("Loving a Hurricane," "Something Wild," "Shredding the Document," "Tip Of My Tongue") and still can sympathize so totally with how a woman feels. "Cry Love" is a divorce song seen from a woman's angle, and it's just drenched with equivocation and regret: "A moment of steel / A dry-eyed house / Did he say goodbye to you / Or did you kick him out / I know you're not afraid / To go it alone / But this was a marriage of spirit, flesh, and bone." That last line kills me; is that poetry or what?

This is a song that offers no solution; it simply looks unflinchingly deep into the heart of hurt. "Now whatcha gonna do / When the planet shifts?" he asks in the second verse, and I can really feel that dislocation, that moment when your life's underpinnings have just been shot out from under you. (The boat lurched just as he sang that line -- kinda spooky.) And then comes the chorus, one of those elemental howls against fate that Hiatt does so well, with the gritty soulfulness of his raspy voice: "Cry love / Cry love / The tears of an angel / The tears of a dove / Spilling all over your heart from above / Cry love / Cry love." That's when the Statue of Liberty hove up behind him, looking pretty much like a weeping angel herself. Shivers up my spine.

As the song goes on, we deconstruct how this marriage went bad, in a stew of selfishness and substance abuse. "If this is a lesson in love," John muses in verse three, "Well, what's it for?" That's one of those lines that burns right through the song, a statement about the pain of human existence that haunts me long after the song's over. And yet somehow, the power of the rock & roll lifts you up, makes you believe that somehow this woman will survive. The way he punches those repeated "Cry love"'s, the way the syncopation jitters determinedly through the line -- maybe she'll be stronger, maybe she'll just be harder, but she will survive. Those weeping angels and doves can't turn heartbreak into happy ending, but they will carry her through.

At one point John was coaxing the audience into a singalong (note to the jerk next to me at the Nick Lowe concert: Artists like it when their fans sing along!) and he joked about New Yorkers being too cool to sing along. I had to crack up, thinking -- how did my homeboy John and I end up in this same place at the same time, so far from Indianapolis? The ways of fate are strange.

Cry Love sample


Mark said...

Wow, that sounds like a really unforgettable concert experience! How cool!

Uncle E said...

Sounds magical, but I'd like to hear a little about that jerk at the Nick Lowe concert...

Holly A Hughes said...

Aw, just some self-styled hipster with bloodshot eyes who couldn't even be bothered to show up for Robyn Hitchcock's half of the show. He kept getting up and leaving his seat during Nick's performance (treading on everyone's toes and blocking our views of the stage), and when he did sit down, he fidgeted in his seat and barely seemed to pay attention. He didn't even applaud after the songs -- what kind of a lousy fan is that? Then in the middle of a song he suddenly turned to me and said, "I didn't pay good money for my ticket in order to hear YOU sing along!" I told him I'd paid for my ticket too and I'd sing along if I felt like it. Three minutes later he left for good. The guy on the other side of his (now-empty) seat gave me a high five and said, "What an a**hole. Hey, I loved your harmonies on Cruel to Be Kind -- that's just what that song needed. Nick should have you on stage." (And indeed, Nick SHOULD have me on stage.)

No musician wants to play to a bunch of stony-faced unresponsive clods. I'm only delivering my half of the contract when I dance and sing along at an, ahem, ROCK CONCERT. Just the night before, I'd seen Ray Davies look desperate because the audience wasn't singing loudly enough. I wasn't about to let Nick down!

Uncle E said...

God how I yearn to be back in a city where we get the opportunity to see ACTUAL bands. Good on ya for not taking that crap from mr butt-face spoiler dude!
Thanks for the clarification.
Also, I will be driving 3 hours to see Mr. Paul Weller in San Fran in a couple weeks, something I've been really looking forward to.

Natsthename said...

"Hey, if you're a John Hiatt fan, chances are you long ago stopped worrying about looking cool." So, so true. And Cry Love is one of my favoritge Hiatt tunes. I haven't seen him yet this year, first time in about 8 years, but he will appear in my area later this month. I still don't have a ticket! TIme to rectify that!!!

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh yes, Nat, you MUST. Is that one of those acoustic shows he's doing with Lyle Lovett? I've got a bit of a fangirl crush on Lyle as well.

And a HUGE fangirl crush on Paul Weller lately, ever since I got 22 Dreams. I'd drive 3 hours to see him in a heartbeat! I think I'm going to see him here in September -- can't wait!

Natsthename said...

No, he's with the Ageless Beauties in Lowell, MA. That's where I saw John last year, with opening act Shawn Colvin. It's a little outdoor venue, but it's nice.

I love Weller, too, and all of his firey soul.

todayistheday said...

I found your blog while searching for some Hiatt lyrics a few weeks back (Damn I love the song "Our Time"). Enjoy the analysis and learning about some of these cats you post about.

From the looks of this posting you hail from Indianapolis. I was born there, moved to Chicago for a few years and now I'm living up here in NY. ALMOST made it to that Hiatt concert but had second thoughts about spending the money.

Thanks for rubbing it in ;-)

Holly A Hughes said...

Too bad, todayistheday...we coulda had our own little Hoosier hoedown at the back of the boat. I'm sure John would have come back and joined us.

Were you a Northsider too? What high school'd you go to?

It's sad how excited I get to meet other Naptowners...