"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