Sunday, December 9, 2012

Jackson Browne Should Be The Next Voice You Hear

I like to think I had a pretty normal childhood. I enjoyed playing games, being silly, and getting into trouble, just like any other kid. However, when all my friends were blasting classic hits from their brand new Sony walk-mans (such as the notorious Brittney Spears masterpiece, Hit Me Baby One More Time), I was memorizing every Jackson Browne song ever made. A part of me wants to say it was because I recognized him as a lyrical genius even at such a young age. Really though, I just noticed how much my dad loved his music. I wanted to be able to sing every lyric with him during our car rides to school, even though, I have to admit, I had no idea what the hell Jackson Browne was singing about.

The years have passed, and I am still obsessed with his music. However, my admiration goes deeper than just trying to impress my dad.  My own life experiences allow me to appreciate Jackson Browne’s ability as a creative writer. He is able to take common life encounters, and write about them in such a way, where it is nearly impossible not to resonate with what he is saying. By using rhetorical devices in his songs, he is able to take words and thoughts everyone can identify with, and transform them into something compelling and captivating to listen to. Jackson Browne separates himself from other writers by contrasting the physical and the real with the emotional and spiritual side of things, allowing the listener to eventually put the two together. In the song, “Your Bright Baby Blues” he achieves this by using multiple different rhetorical devices.

The entire song is the narrator’s own self-reflection of his life.  In the following verse, we first get a sense of his musing and speculation about the way people live:
I'm sitting down by the highway
Down by that highway side
Everybody's going somewhere
Riding just as fast as they can ride
I guess they've got a lot to do
Before they can rest assured
Their lives are justified
Pray to God for me baby
He can let me slide

When I listen to this part of the song, I imagine a man sitting by a highway side, alone and watching the cars zoom past him. I can’t help but to feel a sense of his loneliness, confusion, and possibly the feeling of being left behind.  The line, “I guess they've got a lot to do before they can rest assured their lives are justified” is an example of playing with meaning by using the rhetorical device, meiosis. He is intentionally belittling the importance of the busy and materialistic lifestyle of the typical American; those trying to be “successful” in life by proving to the world their lives are meaningful and important. When he says, “Pray to God for me baby, He can let me slide”, we are first introduced to “baby” and we also learn that he does not desire the busy and industrious lifestyle of every day routine.  He mentions “baby” throughout the entire song, and directs many important questions and statements to this particular person. Therefore, Jackson Browne makes use of apostrophe effectively by addressing this assumed lover directly throughout the entire song. In the next verse, she (I’m assuming his lover is female, but this is only an assumption) is mentioned again:

'Cause I've been up and down this highway
Far as my eyes can see
No matter how fast I run
I can never seem to get away from me
No matter where I am
I can't help feeling I'm just a day away
From where I want to be
Now I'm running home baby
Like a river to the sea

In this verse, it is apparent that he is running away from something or someone in his life. We also get a sense that he feels unfulfilled. I would guess he feels unsatisfied with life not because he yearns for more material or wants to achieve more success in his career, but because he is missing that person in his life that makes him feel whole. I believe this is very much a love song.  When he sings, “Now I’m running home baby, like a river to the sea”, Jackson Browne is using a simile by making an explicit comparison between a man running home, and a river running into the sea.  “Home” in this case, could be interpreted as a metaphor for wherever his baby may be.

I believe this song is a plea to be saved by love. I think the narrator in the song reaches the realization that there is nothing else to live for that can fill the void within him. His emptiness and sorrow is only able to be filled by the intimate and meaningful connection with another.  In the next verse, Jackson Browne uses the rhetorical device, aporia to convey this message:

I thought I flying like a bird
So far above my sorrow
But when I looked down
I was standing on my knees
Now I need someone to help me
Someone to help me please

Here, he is showing his thought process concerning his own doubts about his identity, and what he wants to live for.  He needs the love of his life to let him back into the deep connection they had once shared. He yearns for the nourishment of another mind, body, and soul, in order to feel complete; the only way to live a meaningful life. This desire for connection is also apparent in the next verse:

Baby if you need me
Like I know I need you
There's just one thing
I'll ask you to do
Take my hand and lead me
To the hole in your garden wall
And pull me through

He openly admits his need for her, in order to feel right about himself. The “garden wall” reference is very interesting. Gardens are repeatedly used as symbols and metaphors in multiple films, literature, and music. Whether it is Bruce Springsteen or Madonna, many artists are obsessed with what gardens can symbolize when written about creatively. In this case, I believe Jackson Browne refers to this “hole in the garden wall” as a metaphor for what he perceives to be an opportunity to reach the depths and secrets of this woman that no one else has been able to reach. Perhaps, this is the only way he can fulfill his own need to reach the same depth within his own soul. The garden in this song has the potential to transform his life into something organic and promising. It is full of metaphor and symbolism relating to spiritual growth, which will only be possible by being deeply connected to another person.

Activity systems are definitely important in regards to this song. This song is off the album “The Pretender” which was written and produced during the lowest point of his life due to his wife’s suicide. I assume the heartbreak he had to endure motivated him to write such compelling lyrics about love and devotion. I believe that his intended audience also plays a role into this particular activity system.  I think Jackson Browne writes about life experiences that my parent’s generation highly relates to. He has an extremely loyal fan base, because he is the type of lyricist that finds meaning in everyday moments, which is why he is able to connect with such a broad audience. The loyalty of his fans may have motivated him to keep writing about these everyday life experiences.

I've seen him perform live; I was by far the youngest person there. I can assure you he is definitely able get the older crowd up and dancing. When this song was played, I have to admit, I blended in with the crowd quite well.  

Emily Stacken      



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