What’s going on doesn’t feel like it’s my story to tell: to listen to, certainly, to be moved by, to mourn and cheer, but not to make pronouncements on, not to demonstrate my support by black-framing my Facebook picture. And I’ve never been much of a marcher, even before my age and Covid would turn me into a walking Danger sign for my fellow marchers. Billy Bragg said, “you can be active with the activists, or sleep in with the sleepers”…but there must be other options, right?
This song is from 1972 and its greatness is a given. The sway of it, the tension, the brief release that anticipates hip hop, the muted horns, the falsetto vocal that makes the brag of the lyrics seem so vulnerable: this is the sound of someone whispering to themselves in the car just before the trouble starts.
I didn’t hear the song in 1972 but I have been listening to and loving it for a long time, thirty years, thirty-five years. And in all that time I’ve misheard the lyric. I thought Marvin was saying, “I come apart,” not “I come up hard.” For 35 years, up until a few months ago when I looked up the lyrics on Google when considering the song for this blog, I had the wrong lyric.
John Updike always seems so sure of his metaphors. I’m not. Lack of understanding, lack of ability to listen, the tendency to project your experience on others and hear what you want to hear? Or the ability to find a purchase in someone else’s life and art and make it your own, internalize it, not perfectly, perhaps not exactly the way they intended…but close enough usually, “Born in the USA”-type situations excepted. Which is not this situation, because I think coming up hard and coming apart do share an emotional truth.