I went with an old faithful for the first ‘jamography’. I’ve been stuck on it lately, which is funny because for a summer blog…well you get it. One thing about my focus on music is that it’s really not so much on the music at all at times. Many of my favorites are all about the lyrics, probably in part because I write. And that’s the first thing I pay attention to when I listen to a song.
For the sake of lyrics, ‘A Long December’ ranks among my favorites. Instrumentally, I love the piano, and the way the jam starts is a tone-setter for me. The very beginning makes it sound like some guy is just playing his piano. Not playing a great piano in a popular rock band. But for all the piano does to the song, the lyrics are what makes it.
I can feel this song. Sure, there’s a universality to it for anyone that listens (something I always appreciate), but it feels like you feel the words. This guy is looking back and looking forward. And he’s got regrets and he’s got hope. As do you. As do I.
When I went to SongFacts, I read about the song and the story behind the song really brought it all home.
“During the taping of a VH1 Storytellers performance, lead singer Adam Duritz talked about the song:
‘In the middle of December of ’95 my friend Jennifer got run over by a car, just creamed; and I spent that whole month, while we were just beginning the record and most of January and February in the hospital. Each morning and early afternoon then I’d go to the studio, the house where we were recording, and we’d play all afternoon and all night. It was a very weird time because there is a lot of stress, not that it’s a big deal being a second album, but any album. They’re just not that easy to make. It’s a very stressful process, especially when you’re first starting out. I spent a lot of time in the hospital which is pretty weird. But one day I just left the studio about 2 in the morning, and I went to my friend Samantha and Tracy’s house which is Hillside Manor, that’s what we call it anyway, it’s just a little house and I sat there talking with them. I woke them up, got them out of bed and made them talk to me for a couple hours, then I went home to my house. I wrote this song between about 4 and 6 and then went to the hospital the next day, and came to the house and I played it for the guys before dinner and taught it to them after dinner. We played it about 6 or 7 times. It was take number 6. We just stopped, that was it. We recorded the song, it was done. We all went into the kitchen and had a cold beer, I grabbed Brad our engineer and ran back out about 5 minutes later, had him play the tape three times, just recorded all the harmonies, and we’ve never touched it since, that was it. It’s a completely live song except for the harmonies. It’s a song about looking back on your life and seeing changes happening, and for once for me, looking forward and thinking, ya know, things are gonna change for the better – ‘maybe this year will be better than the last’ – and so, like a lot of songs on the end of an album it’s not about everything turning out great, but it at least it is about hope… and the possibilities…'”
The raw emotion of the song is evident in this story, and it only supplements the emotion of the lyrics in their own right. Duritz writes this thing and records it just like THAT. That’s incredible. In my experience, some of my best work (IMO) is when it just happens. This song just happened for the Crows. And, without having read the story behind the song, I had a hunch that was the case.
THAT. JUST. HAPPENED.
The lyrics of this song make me feel the song. Because it was real. It is real.
Lines in the jam that set it off:
“The smell of hospitals in winter, and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters…but no pearls”
Hospital smells suck, and everyone has felt hopeless when looking for something.
“I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower, makes you talk a little lower”
This is a great observation, it’s true…but this song is the only time I’ve ever heard it put that way.
“I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on…to these moments as they pass”
Two things about this line:
1. This happens. All. The. Time.
2. Irony. Beautifully written, encompasses his problem entirely with a few words.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean….I guess I should”
I always felt like the first part of this line had a tone of regret to it, then deciding to leave regret behind.
“…and there’s reason to believe…maybe this year will be better than the last”
‘There’s always next year’…with a dash of ‘Everything will be okay’
Deep and thought-provoking.