the song ohio begins with the welcome moaning of guitars. like the cheerful suffering of a heavily-traveled bridge. they bear up well and long. at the end of the first verse is the line "my blood is the water and it's darker and deeper than time." this is a very representative patty griffin lyric. it appears immediately familiar, almost cliche. blood, water, darkness; these words often sit next to each other on the shelf. but under examination, another dimension unfurls. how dark is time? how deep? time has an arrow, why not a color and a size? perhaps most relevant is the elusive nature of time itself. it is everywhere, yet completely out of reach. to compare something to time is then to accord it an immutable strength. the guitars continue their well-laden entreaties. patty shifts her voice up through its gears in an exhilarating wordless harmony between the verses. at the end of the next stanza is the line "my love is the water and it's stronger and deeper than time." here the strength of time is explicit. to find in any love the omnipresence of time is quite the aspiration. i hope to encounter this myself someday, though i suspect it's of the rank of ideas more easily expressed than lived.
while talking about music, one of my closest friends and i once mutually established the idea that some songs have a most important line. in my memory of the conversation, it was as though we had each independently evolved the idea, then had only to suggest the briefest sketch of it to the other for it to be immediately enshrined in the annals of our understanding. this was, and is, typical of our communication. i'm writing about this as though through some journalistic pretense i have to preserve the anonymity of my source, but as ever, it's aisa, always aisa. in this instance our touchstone song was "bag of hammers" by thao and the get down stay down. the most important line is "the trick is/you must not get on that interstate bus." part of what lends punch to this line is the way it is voiced. the implied colon after "the trick is" dyes what follows in mysterious portent. mysterious, but also recognizable; we have all asked not to be left behind. and felt the simplicity of the solution to an appparent problem, when considered from a single, selfish perspective. i do not want you to leave. how easy, then: do not go.
i bring this up now because the patty griffin song "faithful son" has one of these lines. the song carries briskly, if sadly, along until about halfway through when it seems to encounter a change in landscape. patty's voice mounts a staircase that does not agree with itself about its destination; each flight twists in a different direction. at the end of a long run of notes that put a man in morning, then in rain; in sunless thoughts and a coat, she gives to us the image of "the sleeves of my old raincoat stained/with the salt of my own tears". perhaps i accord this line more prominence than it deserves. but every time i think to play this song, it is the line that springs to mind, and the one i wait impatiently through the first two minutes of the song to hear. this song is fundamentally about obligation--an enduring, high-level emotional struggle--and this single intimate detail shows its effects in a moment. sometimes all we have to bite down on are these moments. as patty suggests later in the song, it is difficult to be the conduit of even your own internal truth:
"And I never would
tell you then,
so I never will
tell you now,
all the things that break
an old man down.
The real truth is
I don't know how."
this would be an immense regret. to finally be ready to communicate only to find that a lifetime of not doing so has handicapped you to it. all you are left with is the dried bloom of despair on your raincoat, from a form of water it was never intended to keep out.