Aoife O’Donovan sounds so tired, on this and the other song of hers I’m most familiar with, “Red & White & Blue & Gold.” (Yes, the one that was on Obama’s mix tape, and also on my 2013 Faves list.)
At least on “Red & White” she admits she’s drunk, sitting on the beach on the 4th of July, begging some guy you know doesn’t deserve her to take her home. She says her face is black and blue, hinting that abuse had led her to this beach and this blatant come-on; to express her enthusiasm for the prospective coupling, she says, “I want to take you in my arms and float down a river with you/I wanna buy the farm.” Seduction as deathwish?
“I’m scared of the way my heart gets sore/Wondering if you’re mine,” she says later, a great line, and a little after that she’s relishing the feeling she gets when the guy passes her by, which I’m pretty sure she doesn’t mean in a “Girl from Ipanema” way. It’s an odd, conflicted song, jagged sentiments sung in a pretty, Alison Krauss-ish voice against lulling folk instrumentation.
This song is just as pretty, just as jagged, just as compelling. In the first lines she tells us the darkest night she’s every seen is the night this song’s guy–same guy, different guy, any guy–came to her on his knees whispering he was sorry. So the night he told her he was sorry was worse than the night he did whatever he was sorry for–that’s “Gone Girl” territory!
They dance; he kisses her on the cheek; he leaves. She continues to address him as she tries to reconstruct what happened. She has a moment of regret for what could have been, for the spot on his handlebars where there might have been room for her–an arresting image! But he’s gone, he wants to live a life of restlessness, not one of the security like she can offer. He prefers the temporary solace of the barroom girls to her.
Pretty familiar territory there, the wandering lover we’ve seen in a hundred folk and country songs, though usually they are the one singing to justify their ramblin’ ways.
A note of resigned anger seeps in. “You want to live a life of loneliness,” she sings, “well baby, so do I”–a life without him, without anyone! Instead she wants to sit under the porch light and watch the yellow moon rise. Which is not exactly a bold step towards starting a new life.
And that’s because she doesn’t really want to start a new life. The guy has left her, but she can’t let go of him, because she thinks if she does let go he might keep falling forever. We can criticize her for that decision, but admire her for admitting it. She understands she’s implicated, that not all the blame flows outward: “Can you help me find another stone to grind/And another man to mind,” she asks, an acknowledgement that perhaps this kind of relationship dynamic answers something in her too and that she’s doomed to repeat it. But if only this guy or the next guy or the next guy she ends up taking care of would realize she might be the prize…
In those moments when you realize how profoundly you are part of your own problems, maybe the best you can do is spend a few hours on the back porch staring at the moon.