To begin with, a great song: early eighties jangle pop, great chorus…you want to hear it in a bar, you want to be standing in front of the stage along with the 20 other (male) fans who’ve shouldered their way to the front of the stage, all of you singing along:
The world was so big, and I was so small
But your voice was always the loudest of all
I guess the consensus on this one is it’s about a kid with a crush on the girl next door, a crush he carries even through adulthood. But I never heard it that way. For me, it’s a guy remembering hanging out with his Mom during a summer when he was five or six or seven. His very cool Mom, who taught him how to start a fire in the barbecue pit in the backyard, let him take a few whacks with the axe when she had to cut down an apple tree. Taught him lots of other stuff as well, some of which was a little scary, but he always trusted her, always knew hers was the voice that would never steer him wrong:
I wish I didn’t have to try so hard
but little boys gotta lot to remember
I remember hanging out with my Mom at that age. I remember one time her agreeing to come back in the woods with me, so I could show her all my favorite places. I remember how happy it made me, pointing out all the coolest trees to her, the one with vines, the one with the ancient-looking bark. I remember showing off how good my balance was as I went from rock to rock to cross a stream and I remember her dipping her foot in the water when she tried to do the same thing but not getting mad at all. Look at all this moss, I said, when we reached the place where all the moss was. It’s really soft, you can sit in it. Go ahead, it’s okay. See?
As an adult in the last verse, the singer says:
I loved the days I spent with you
And I still have all you could offer
the backyard looks so empty now
then I think of her, I think of her
…and as a parent now, I’m struck by “I still have all you could offer.” In some ways it’s sad, it shows your kid’s journey from thinking you are the center of the universe to understanding your limitations. But what a nice thing, to have a kid smart enough to realize that and love you anyway.
I don’t know, maybe the song is about having a crush on the girl next door. But if, hearing it after a couple of glasses of wine, my interpretation can still choke me up a little, it can’t be all wrong, right?