Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Song That Signals Spring

Seems every spring there is one song that banishes winter, welcomes spring and carves a doorway unto summer.

In 1983, that song was "I'll Melt With You" by Modern English. The night I heard that song for the first time was the Friday I connected with my first girlfriend. It was late May and I saw the Modern English music video on the WRIF Video Cafe hosted by Steve Costand on Detroit's WXYZ. "I'll Melt With You" ignited a Pentacostal flame of romantic-horny-poetic-clamor in my bones and soul. I wasn't the same after seeing that music video, hearing that song.

Two years before that it was Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain." I know that the Beach Boys are the offically recognized anthemeers of summer songs, but for me it's the intensely melodic, lyrically melancholic songs that wrench spring out of winters claws.

In 1998 it was Dave Matthews' "Crash." That was a season of spasmic unrequited love that seared me to depths I didn't know existed within me. "Crash" assuaged those pangs to a point at which I was at least able to breathe. I didn't get the girl that spring, but the strangled, inchoate longing I felt for fair Aisling was cut by "Crash" like laudanum -- transfiguring my psyche without outright poisoning me.

This year the song of spring is "Second Date" by Isaac Johnson. On the first listening the song immediately embodied the merry-melancholy sense of April, the universally acknowledged "cruelest month." I have been spending time recently with a special person, and this song immediately traced her outline within me, like a hand-shadow on the wall of my memory. Without question, "Second Date" is absolutely stunning work, evoking all of the awful, delicious uncertainty that makes early dates in a budding relationship so weighty, dreaded, and star-zapped.

I take the song to be an internal monologue the narrator conducts with himself in the midst of his second date; an internal monologue accelerated by anxiety, vividly painting the scene:
So I'm sittin at this table and I stare at her eyes that shine so bright
And I wonder what she's thinking now and if I'm doin alright

In the restaurant with no name I love to watch her smile
And I swear if it gets any brighter I just might go blind
Yeah, that's how it is. It's too early in the relationship for the narrator to be in love with this woman, but certainly not too early for him to be blown away by her looks, manner, laugh, and smile.

The part of the song that makes me think this is all interior monologue is that which serves as the chorus:
And I'll never understand why being everything is never enough for you
You don't even know why but you've made up your mind and I think I'm losin time
It's easy -- too easy -- to believe songs are always sung to someone else. I think this is the narrator prodding himself, losing his cool behind his calm exterior. Particularly the line "And I'll never understand why being everything is never enough for you." That sounds just like a guy silently beating the shit out of himself.

The music of this song, alone, would move me to the same heights of feeling. Isaac Johnson is clearly an accomplished guitarist, traversing the fretboard of his acoustic guitar with an effortlessness that is certainly guided by inspriation. He finds all the right phrasing to bring this song -- which skates up to the edge of awkwardness at times, but remains on the side of right -- through its difficult geography.

What makes "Second Date" by Isaac Johnson the Song of Spring 2006 for me is Johnson's soulful vocals. Like Robert Plant taking the listener through the raw pangs of "Fool in the Rain", Johnson's voice is vulnerable, confident, and uncertain -- all at the same time. Those are contradictions on the page, but they work in Johnson's vocal performance. Particularly in the song's final line: "I'm losin time love, don't waste all my time, Don't waste your time, Don't waste your time, Please don't waste my..." In other words, Please be for real.

I'm off to hear the song again.

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