tremble clef

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Weeping Willows, "The Burden" (2007)

It was one of the first few nights he slept over, and he was being very cuddly. We were half-talking, half-sleeping, and then at some point he became self-conscious about how tight he was holding me. "I am, right?" he asked. "I've been told I do." Always going for the joke, I said yes, I could hardly breathe, but what's more erotic than asphyxiation? Although he detected my teasing tone, he nevertheless pressed me, in all seriousness, on whether I thought he was proving thus far to be, both literally and figuratively, too clingy.

"It's three in the morning," I said with a sudden, genuine laugh, "and you're asking me to assure you that you're not needy." I may have further razzed him by affecting a whiney voice with which I parodied, over and over again, his question -- "Am I too clingy?" "How about now?" "And now?" -- but the truth was that I liked his attentions, not to mention the body warmth. And in between laughing and mock-punching me, he, if anything, held me closer.

There's nothing quite like being in love to bring out your worst insecurities. On their new single, Weeping Willows -- the Swedish group which, for over ten years now, has been inconspicuously making the kind of twangy music with wounded vocals that always have people mumbling "Scott Walker," but with a pop sensibility that Richard Hawley or Tindersticks only occasionally muster -- ask one question over and over again: "Do you still love me?"

That plaintive question, or variants on it, come up at the end of every one of the four verses, and a couple of times at the end of each chorus. This is, of course, perilously close to too many times: for the listener, but even more for the lover addressed by the song. On the chorus, which escalates into a sudden rush of words, the desperate longing is even more pronounced as the lyric becomes a series of statements of need: "I need your loving words, for often longing makes a heart go soft/I'm worried that you might be lost/I need to feel the love you give me, and the warmth your body brings me/I need to see it in your eyes/That you still love me/Do you still love me?"

Do we know what makes the relationship so seemingly fragile? The narrator is nothing if not sensitive, keeping close enough tabs on things to be able to notice very quickly when something feels off: "I sat down by the solitary river/In the shadow of a weeping willow tree/It seems like you have changed in the past week/Do you still love me?" But if this sounds like a new relationship, it's not. "We've been together so long that I wonder/And my mind is being fueled by disbelief." The length of the love therefore provides no safety, no consolation -- indeed, the opposite is true. The longer they are together, the worse it seems. The song names, in its second verse, "jealousy" as the titular cross the relationship has to bear. "Jealousy is such a heavy burden/It sneaks into my soul and never sleeps/I've gotta hear you whisper it to me/That you still love me." But the song never sketches in the details of this jealousy, which therefore feels like a symptom more than a cause. What makes the relationship so tenuous? The bleaker answer is that it's fragile because it is a relationship. If there is a "burden" in the relationship, it's not jealousy, but the relationship, or love, itself.

As beautiful as it is, the song is therefore quite difficult to listen to -- not just because the neediness is so naked, or because this neediness, due as it is to the very nature of love, appears so insurmountable. What makes the song additionally tough to bear is our sense that the narrator knows all this, and yet cannot help himself. Each query -- "do you still love me?" -- is a query he knows he shouldn't pose, but he somehow can't quite help himself. You can almost see the chasm widen each time the question leaves his lips. What is moving about the song, ultimately, is the sense we get of the approaching crash. For when is neediness not ever a self-fulfilling prophecy? Isn't the lover who unrelentingly begs to be loved -- to be assured of love -- also the one who ends up without, having driven away the very thing he tries to hold on to?

Or so the story normally goes. But then again, sometimes, there are surprises. I for one thought I knew where things were going, but I was wrong, and to this day I don't fully understand why things changed the way they did.

2 Comments:

  • Just a beautiful post.

    By Anonymous esque, at 12:57 AM  

  • Please take it as a great compliment that you always surprise me.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 7:17 AM  

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