May The Circle Be Unbroken
There were four girls in my homeroom named Jenny: Jenny Clarke, Jenny Rexroat, Jenny D’Lucia, and Jenny Ebert.
My first public performance was in fifth grade at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary talent show. I sang the theme from ‘The Greatest American Hero’ (“Believe it or not I’m walking on air / I never thought I could feel so free”). All four Jennys sang backup.
Not so long ago, I dated a woman with a similar sounding name. One morning a few months ago, just as I was getting a handle on this whole Pro Tools home recording thing, I pecked out a song inspired by the fiasco that was “us”. I wrote it in about ten minutes. It was only a test. An exercise. I didn’t take it too seriously, or treat the material too preciously. I just spit it out. I didn’t really think anyone would hear it, let alone listen.
Funny thing happened out there in the ether: you listened. You responded. It struck a chord. Why? What does it all mean? Who is she?
Recording ‘Jenny’ for my forthcoming CD, ‘Love And Other Indoor Games,’ was slightly unprecedented. Tony and Todd were excited. They wanted to try something new, to stretch out a little bit. We worked with the arrangement for an hour a more. We ran through the form until we had something entirely new: three distinct parts that served the song, and pushed the narrative just a little beyond where it had been. Over the course of its three minute run, the song builds tension through muted verses, polyrhythmic prechoruses, and straight-up, full-release choruses. We knew we had something special.
But why? What does it all mean? Who is she?
In fifteen years of songwriting, I’ve accrued a long list of melancholy songs featuring women’s names: ‘Rebecca,’ ‘Anna’s Lost Her Mind,’ ‘Kathryn Of A Thousand Faces,’ ‘Dear Elizabeth,’ ‘Intent On St. Paul’ (“Stephanie said she’s been crying again…”), and a whole host of others that never made it to tape.
So… why? What does it mean? Who is she?
I was asked that very question again yesterday morning about my recent Morning Mix addition, ‘The Greatest Weight.’
Who’s it about? I answered, “Like all songs: the nebulous her, the invisible, intangiable savior. Myself.”
Probably not. I’m told I’m a little vague here in The Daily Journal. Evasive maybe. Non-committal. Impersonal. So… what do I mean…
First of all, yes, there’s an actual Jenny.
Second of all, no, it’s not really about her. I don’t know what it’s actually about. I think of songs like dreams. If my frontal lobe’s not working, if my logos functions are shut down, I’m doing my job right. I let it rip and figure it out later.
I guess I’ve a devout enough believer in Jung’s theorizin’ about animus and anima, and projection and such, plus and the post-modernist thought that the writer can never write outside of him/herslef, that every time I really puzzle over what something I wrote is about — especially something that feigns to be about someone else — I always arrive back at the same conclusion: it’s about me. Jenny is me. Anna is me. Kathryn is me.
Not because I’m so self absorbed that I can’t get beyond myself. I’m certainly thinking of other places, other times, other experiences other than my own. But they’re all mine. They’re all filtered through my eyes, my head, my heart.
So, like my dreams, my songs are tools to help me understand that which is just finding words. It just so happens that I play them for the rest of the world. Or whoever wants to listen. And we all have enough in common that, every once and a while — thank goodness — it resonates.