I love Ron Sexsmith, but it can sometimes seem like his approach to lyric writing is to take as many vaguely-related cliches and aphorisms as he can think of and string them together in hope of achieving Meaning. (The Jayhawks, who I also love, do this too, though most of the phrases they choose have to do with weather.)
For Ron, this songwriting strategy works when he takes the cliche and recasts it in a way you’ve never thought of before (as in another favorite, “Gold in Them Hills”) or when he puts the cliche through its paces, rings variations on it that build on and enhance each other, as in this song. Memories deepen with time: of a mother’s voice calling you home, of a brother’s love and protectiveness. Art deepens with time: a familiar song can yield up different meanings depending on your current circumstances, or it can keep the same meaning and what deepens is your investment in it. And love deepens with time (if you’re lucky): and what’s great about the image of the two lovers in bed, talking until 3, is that it could apply to new lovers or an old married couple, it pays equal respect to what will deepen with time and what has.
The music works, too. Ron’s conversational approach to melody can sometimes lapse into the meandering, but here it seems intimate, it has the tone of a confidence. Then during the chorus he writes himself into a note he can’t quite reach, and the arch of the voice reminds us we’re listening to a song, not a conversation. It’s a terrifically vulnerable moment, in keeping with the theme of the song, though I do look forward to a Maura O’Connell cover version where she’ll clobber that note.
In the last verse Ron offers the cliche ambiguously, without direct reference: “Through our hands it slips away/In our hair a touch of gray/And in the back of our minds/It deepens with time.” I guess it’s up to us to decide whether what he’s saying deepens here is our engagement with our own lives and memories, or our understanding that the time we’re given to appreciate it is very, very limited.