"Same Old Man" / John Hiatt
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN!!
There just aren't a whole lot of middle-aged love songs out there -- which is why we need John Hiatt. Here, on his 56th birthday, I'm listening to his brand-new album, Same Old Man, and marveling over the title track.
As a tune, there's not much to it; four short lines per verse, each one starting on a repeated high note then loping amiably downwards, sung in the scratchy twang John's fallen into lately. The tempo's laidback, with a ragged syncopation -- like something a guy'd make up on the spot, strumming his guitar on the living room couch, crooning ad lib to his wife. She'd be swatting him with the TV Guide, popping up to go check on dinner. Nice and homey-like.
And it's full of that self-deprecating wit that makes so Hiatt so easy to settle into -- lines like "Truth is, I never was young / Shot like a bullet from a rusty old gun" and "I'm the biggest baby in the world" and, in that wonderful wry chorus, "Honey I'm still the same old man / That you married way back when / A few less brain cells, a lot less hair." He knows she's not fooled by him one bit, but that's what he loves about her: "I know you can say a lot about that /But you're so sweet you keep it under your hat."
It all sounds so comfy, with a kind of gee-whiz innocence: "I love you more than I ever did / I love you just like a little kid," he gushes in the third verse, and I'm getting lulled by their married bliss (just like they might be). If anything, I'm just a little bit annoyed by how perfect it all sounds, by his unblinking hound-dog devotion.
Ah, but I should have known -- old Johnny's too crafty to leave it there. Come to the fourth verse, and he suddenly drives it deeper. "We been down a rough road or two," he starts out -- fair enough -- but then he drops the bomb: "This is another one we'll get through." This one? Up to now, who knew they were having problems? And it's not just them facing life's travails together; no, the problem's between them. Earnestly, he pleads, "Don't ask me how I know / I'm just saying, baby please don't go." Wait -- she was gonna pack it in?
In the last verse, you get the idea this one was his fault, as he ruefully reflects, "You start out trying to change everything / You wind up dancing with who you bring." I love how Hiatt can take a corny cliche like that and spin it into bone-deep wisdom. "I loved you then and my love still stands," he promises her simply, with a subtle shiver of emotion on "stands." "Honey, I'm still the same old man," he reminds her one more time. If that doesn't work, she's not the understanding woman he's been persuading her she is.
Now I get it; all those dogged professions of love, all that fulsome praise for her higher nature -- they had a reason and purpose. The guy's fighting for his marriage, again, because let's face it, this is life; the fight never ends. Sure, it's delivered in a genial, almost matter-of-fact style. That doesn't mean it isn't urgent. It's just that...well, they're not teenagers. Love's different, this side of fifty. And who's to say it's not better?
Same Old Man sample