Monday, January 23, 2023

This Year: 1973

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

Last week I had a song about a man who can't leave; this week I have a song about a man who can only leave. Life rarely gives anyone such clear bookends - I had to take them.

My song for 1973 is Tom Waits' Old Shoes & Picture Postcards, a lovely, sweet song that says "it's not you, it's me" in such a way that it almost doesn't feel like a cliché. A man has had a relationship with a woman - it's the '70s, so he calls her a "girl" - and he's ready to hit the road, because it's all run its course and "we'd lost the magic we had at the start."

One quirky thing that I wonder about: the verses address her directly - it's all "you," because he's talking to her. But the chorus drops suddenly into third person, to call her "the girl with the sun in her eyes," as if the singer were Apollo blinding her with his radiance as he leaves. Maybe that's him already distancing himself, already turning this into a story he'll tell later - oh, yeah, I remember her, she was the girl with the sun in her eyes, back when I lived in that other town.

However he means it, however the unnamed girl takes it, this is a song about walking out the door, about the act of walking out the door, and trying to be as positive about it as possible despite several references to sadness on both their parts (tears, weep, cry). It's not about the earlier moments, when he thought about leaving but didn't. It's not looking back later. It's that precise moment: he's in the doorway as he sings, he's got one foot out already, and this is the last thing he's ever going to say to her as part of this relationship.

The music is quiet and open, in a folk idiom - one man and his guitar, telling a simple story. We can see him strumming that guitar, with his bag on his back, standing in that doorway and talking to the girl, singing the song to try to explain why he's going.

And the title? It's not obvious; those words never come up in the song. Maybe they're also things left behind: all the girl has to remember him by. Maybe they're things that remind the singer of his past: mementoes of this girl. You can take it either way, or make up your own meaning. 

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