Late For The Sky by Jackson Browne

1974

Everyone I’ve ever known has wished me well. Anyway that’s how it seems, it’s hard to tell. Maybe people only ask you how you’re doing ’cause that’s easier than letting on how little they could care. But when you know that you’ve got a real friend somewhere, suddenly all the others are so much easier to bear.

Roo and I watched “Blinded By The Light” last night. It’s based on the true story of Sarfraz Mansoor who was a teenager in Luton in the 80s. The film is pretty good and deals very convincingly with the racism that was endemic at the time. It’s also very good in telling the story of the relationship with his father who insisted that Sarfraz wasn’t British, he was Pakistani. His father wasn’t supportive of Sarfraz’s ambitions to become a writer as he didn’t believe people of Pakistani heritage could realistically achieve that in Britain. Sarfraz’s life is changed when he is given a couple of Bruce Springsteen tapes. When listening to the words, he identifies with them completely and he begins to believe that he can realise his ambitions. Many of the words appear on the screen as Viveik Kalra, who plays the leading character, listens to Bruce singing, for example, “Oh, baby, this town rips the bones from your back/It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap/We gotta get out while we’re young/’Cause tramps like us/Baby, we were born to run.” As I say, the film is pretty good although, apart from the leading character, I found the rest of the portrayals a little one dimensional. The overbearing father; the gorgeous and supportive English teacher; the submissive but loving mother. I’m probably being harsh. I’m glad I watched it.

This made me think of a theme I’ve addressed a few times recently and that is the power of words in music. A couple of days ago I was contemplating a Bob Dylan quote from the sleeve notes to a compilation. Here it is again: “There’s a lot of different ways a record can get under your skin. Sometimes it’s the way they sound, sometimes it’s the words. Maybe it’s a guitar riff or horn line or maybe you feel like the singer is talking right to you.” In “Blinded By The Light”, the character felt that Bruce Springsteen was talking right to him, telling him to dream, to leave Luton and explore the world. Tramps like him were born to run. I think there are plenty of songs that I like where the words mean a lot to me. “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, “Desolation Row”, “On The Beach”, “Sphagnum Mass For A Dead Queen”, “Down Where The Drunkards Roll”, “Up The Wolves”, etc etc etc. Best of all are the lyrics to every song on “Late For The Sky”.

I have a very clear memory of being in 16 years solitary confinement in my flat in Harlow and, trying to get to sleep, thinking that one day this would all be over and I’d be able to look back on my loneliness as if from another lifetime. (I am, of course, exaggerating). In the current inconvenience, I’m beginning to feel the same way about lockdown. However, the words that I quoted at the start (and to which I misleadingly and deliberately omitted the speech marks) have “spoken to me” as Mr. Zimmerman put it. “When you know you’ve got a real friend somewhere, suddenly all the others are so much easier to bear.” Any of my friends who might be reading this: please don’t take offence – I don’t have to “bear” any of you but my 29 year relationship with Roo does mean that I don’t have to depend on you all to stop being lonely. It becomes a pleasure to meet you (in the good old days) or to chat with you (in the current inconvenience).

“Late For The Sky” is Jackson Browne’s third record. When inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen called the record a masterpiece. I agree with Bruce.

The title track opens the record and is a beautiful description of a relationship that is coming to an end. “The words had all been spoken and somehow the feeling still wasn’t right and still we continued on through the night. Tracing our steps from the beginning until they vanished into the air, trying to understand how our lives had led us there.” What a perfect description of two people who are tired of the arguments, who want the relationship to continue but just don’t know how to make it work.

In “Fountain Of Sorrow”, Jackson discovers a photograph of a former lover and reflects on its significance. There is some speculation that the former lover is Joni Mitchell. “When you see through love’s illusion, there lies the danger and your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool”. This is not a happy way to consider love; the implication that love is just an illusion and that the object of his love is a fool because she doesn’t live up to his idealised view of her.

“For A Dancer” is an utterly beautiful song, ruminating on life and death. “I don’t know what happens when people die. I can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try. It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear that I can’t sing, but I can’t help listening.” I was writing earlier about words talking right to me and this perfectly sums up what I think about death. He follows this up with “Just do the steps that you’ve been shown by everyone you’ve ever known until the dance becomes your very own. No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown, in the end there is one dance you’ll do alone” which succinctly sums up the issues of forming a long term relationship. Be close but not too close. Make the dance your own but learn from others. I’m reminded of Kahlil Gibran on marriage: “Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

“Before The Deluge” is also a brilliant song. It’s about the passing of the hippy generation from the 60s to the 70s. It describes the ebbing away of the idealism of the 60s, the belief that the world could change for the better, that the pillars of capitalism could be overthrown in order to make way for a more egalitarian, peaceful and better way of life. “Some of them were angry at the way the youth was abused by the men who learned how to forge their beauty into power. As they struggled to protect us from them only to be confused by the magnitude of the few in the final hour. And when the sand was gone and the time arrived into naked dawn only a few survived and in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge believed that they were meant to live after the deluge.” This somehow seems pretty pertinent these days as we watch the deluge washing over us.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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