Today’s song is here thanks to another August baby—my friend Emmy who told me about this Brooklyn band I’d never heard of, back in 2002. Hem’s Rabbit Songs—a bit like Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions (1988)—is one of those albums with a definite feel that all the songs share. The CJ LP is more despondent in tone, bluesier, closer to my general musical m.o., while Rabbit Songs is cheerier and prettier. So of course I pick one of its more wistful songs for today.
At the time when I got the album, I lived with it for awhile. It was a sound I kept returning to—falling to sleep to it on iPod and the like. It was comforting. Most of the music I listen to isn’t. Not only is it great when something someone recommends turns out to be worth it, but it’s also great when the album isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan. Rabbit Songs doesn’t get old because it already sounds old. “Timeless” is the term one generally uses, but, because I know when I first started listening to it, it’s also of its time. There’s a comforts of home aspect to it that still appeals to me. Songs like “Idle”—very mellow—or “Stupid Mouth Shut”—about not saying “something stupid” as the old Sinatra song would have it—or today’s song, which matches well with the last three Songs of the Day. It’s quiet and pensive and matches the mood of retrospect that seems to go with “end of the summer” biz.
“There’s a lazy eye that looks at you / And sees you the same as before.” It’s a nice conceit. In my “lazy eye,” I don’t notice that you age, that you change, that nothing, really, is the same as before. Hitting 40 in 1999, I was no doubt cheered by such mind (or eye)-over-matter lyricism in the early Aughts. Nothing’s changed, honest. And now, so far into the 50s, I’m even more susceptible to the seduction of this song. It’s not just wishful thinking, now, it’s more like inhabiting a tremendous cloud that veils all before it.
In the song, the image of “the hem of your dress” name-checks the band’s name, making us perhaps wonder why that is their name. What’s a “hem” anyway? Dress hems notoriously change with the times, which is why it seems a good detail for a “then/now” comparison. Likewise the comb that’s parting the hair—hairstyles change even more then dress hems, I think. Sung with the graceful purity that vocalist Sally Ellyson brings to everything she sings, the words seem to be from the point of view of a male to a female (and indeed the song was written by two male members of the band: Dan Meesé and Gary Maurer), and the part about the hem and the comb are so lovely, in the melody, that there’s a kind of trance there, as if of someone playing the same clip over and over. Ellyson’s voice becomes a kind of inner muse for some musing guy, thinking of “When you lay beside me every night / Though now you are with me no more.”
We might well think—that’s how it strikes me—of a widower, alone in his empty home, living as if his wife’s still there. Certainly it could be about a woman that left, but something in the way Ellyson sings the guy’s part so simply, I don’t feel the bitterness of abandonment, rather an address to someone who, as far as he’s concerned, is still with him. Still there, “the same as before.” Ghostly, eh?
I tend to think of this as “the mind’s eye”—which “lazy eye” is a good figure for—where it’s easy to let a clear memory take precedence over an actual absence. So many people we will always remember as they were, never knowing what they became later. And they’ll never know the same about you.