Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Greatest Love Song Ever Written

Some love songs help us remember a moment ("our song")--first date, first dance, the one that was playing when we looked into someone's eyes in a way we've never forgotten. Others capture how we feel in a way that we, not being songwriters, are incapable of doing. And some are about a way we would like to feel but don't, or don't anymore. So we're all suckers for a love song.

When you're a teenager, your taste in love songs isn't particularly discerning, because your taste in love isn't particularly discerning. You're hot for somebody, somebody's hot for you, and if a song gets at that feeling, even if it's no more sophisticated than rhyming "endless love" with "stars above" and "moon" with "June," it'll do. It's only when you get a little older that you require more from your love songs--perhaps a recognition that love is intractably bound up with sadness and nostalgia and loss, and that those emotions aren't necessarily distinct from love, but that they can be a part of it.

I was thinking about all of that on my way back from the bagel shop this morning, listening to what might be the greatest adult love song of all time. "The Dutchman" was written by Michael Scott, but the recording I know is by Steve Goodman, the Chicago singer-songwriter famous for "City of New Orleans," "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" (also known as "The Perfect Country and Western Song"), and Jimmy Buffett's "Banana Republics." "The Dutchman" is as lovely a thing as you'll ever hear, and while the words on the page are pretty enough, you really need to hear Goodman's performance, on the 1973 album Somebody Else's Troubles.
When Amsterdam is golden in the summer
Margaret brings him breakfast
She believes him
He thinks the tulips bloom beneath the snow
He's mad as he could be
But Margaret only sees that sometimes
Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes
Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee
Long ago I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me
You are not capable of that when you're 16. Some people never evolve enough to become capable of seeing their unborn children in another's eyes, or resolving to hold another's memories for safekeeping. But when you get it, you get it. And you realize that all those moon/June love songs you dug when you were 16 are talking about something utterly different.

(Buddah Records 99626 [1999 rerelease]; original release 1973; did not chart)


Post a Comment

<< Home