Song Analysis #56: C Duncan – I’ll Be Gone by Winter

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Title: ‘I’ll Be Gone by Winter’
Where to find it: ‘Architect’ (2015, FatCat Records)
Performed by: C Duncan
Words by: Christopher Duncan

Since last winter, I have been on a new journey towards better understanding my place and purpose in this world. As someone who has spent a lot – frankly, probably far too much – of her time thinking about life, death, and the meaning of both, I think the start of this path would have happened eventually, but certain circumstances personally and professionally certainly gave me a big, fat shove in the right direction. The more isolated you get, you begin to realize it’s your strength in morals and what you stand for that prove difficult for many of the people in your life to go along with and accept. They don’t like looking at themselves in the mirror and confronting who they really are. So they leave you behind, for other people they can continue to be superficial with. But don’t worry. The right people will filter in, like sunlight through the panes of a Victorian glasshouse during a rainstorm. They will listen, support, and stay, and you will know who they are.

When I was a child, I had few close friends. I had a really hard time with this, assuming that I was the one with the problem. Here’s just one example: my best friend in 7th grade dumped me for a prettier, more popular girl. As best friends, I’d assumed that we would be working together on a team project in social studies. Instead, I was informed on a curt phone call that I was being replaced in her social circle. This came out of nowhere. From that humiliating moment, I turned around and started writing poetry because it was something I could do on my own. I turned inward and got better at relying on myself instead of others. I guess I should be grateful to her.

I can now look back at those difficult times and better empathize with that younger version of myself. Being an old soul is difficult in a world when you’re always fighting the tide. But there are many blessings to being an empath, too. Because of the struggles I’ve gone through, the times I’ve somehow cheated death and been granted another chance, the sensitivity I have to feel other people’s emotions, absorbing them like a psychic sponge and feeling them like they were my own: I’ve reflected on the fact that I tend to ‘see’ more meanings to the lyrics of a song than most.

One thing that I was thinking about in the planning stages of this analysis: there’s a disproportionate number of Christmastime holiday songs focused on the topic of togetherness. Often times, there’s a yearning of the protagonist to return home, or he/she waiting for a significant other to come back. Amazingly, this song is about neither, and yet can elicit the same level of emotions in me that I’ve seen the trite, garden variety Christmas song can in other people. It actually makes me feel like I’m in one of those tabletop snow globes.

First, the words:

Verse 1
I’ll be gone by winter,
I’ll have said goodbye,
to wind and rain, it’s all the same,
in my mind.

Verse 2
I’ll be gone by winter,
far across the sea,
away from snow, and all I know,
left behind.

‘Bridge’ 1
How slow the days go,
when you don’t come around anymore.
I’ll wait for sunlight in the grey.

Verse 3
By the end of winter,
day and night subside.
The spring will come and bring the sun,
for a while.

Verse 4
Summer passed unnoticed,
autumn’s come and gone,
and rain will start and break my heart,
like before.

‘Bridge’ 2
How slow the nights go,
When you don’t come around anymore.
I’ll wait for daybreak in the grey.

Verse 5
I’ll be gone by winter,
time to say farewell.
I’ll be far from here this time next year,
goodbye, goodbye.

Now, the analysis:

C Duncan is a Scottish songwriter who has a great talent in creating choral-sounding compositions by layering versions of his own voice. The results are pretty astounding: when you’re listening to a song of his, it’s like being sat in the church of C Duncan, multiple C Duncans in the choir singing angelically, and having the vocals wash over you. The experience is much like I’d imagine it would have sounded like upon being present the first time Handel brought out the Messiah. Many music reviewers have commented on the throwback sound of C Duncan’s music, for its folk and psychedelic leanings, of his harmonies being reminiscent of barbershop quartets of days gone by. Based on all of that, I’d say odds are good that he’s an old soul.

Duncan says his main goal is to write a good pop song, but if you look at the lyrics laid above, you’ll notice key pieces of any usual pop song are missing. There’s repetition in the melody presented in the verses, so that’s why I’ve marked them as verses, but it’s kind of a misnomer, as there’s no chorus to be found at all to separate them. What I’m calling the bridges are actually another kind of verse, but I’m calling them bridges because their minor key-led melody are different from the verses, and they act as reasonably nice segues between the verses. There is also a complete absence of the usual, often times awkward instrumental interlude to further separate the parts of the song, which is also unusual. Not a second is wasted. The song just keeps going along, gently, like a river, with nothing but his vocals and the spare notes and chords of an acoustic guitar. Got all that?

The first time I heard this song in its entirety, I was getting Smiths’ ‘Asleep’ vibes. It made me cry. If you ‘read’ the song in this way, the singer is telling us he’ll be gone by the time the weather becomes cold and it starts snowing again, but it’s ambiguous on how he intends to meet his end. I’ve considered that this interpretation fits well with how we traditionally view winter in the Northern Hemisphere. As we get closer to the winter solstice, the leaves of the trees have long gone, leaving what New Englanders call “stick season”, where what once were regal displays of lush green. Plants have either gone dormant or have died, without any hope of revival. We won’t see the bright color of a flower for many months. The landscape becomes desolate, as if the vibrancy we once saw with our own eyes has now being choked by the neutral tones. For animals, winter’s relationship with death can be literal, too: the ones that aren’t the strongest in their respective groups won’t survive the cold and brutal weather, what I’m imagining is “the wind and rain, it’s all the same / in my mind.” of C Duncan’s Glasgow.

If you go into verse 2, there may be some respite from this first interpretation. The words “I’ll be gone by winter / far across the sea / away from snow, and all I know / left behind.” suggests that he’s simply leaving what has become too familiar. It still leaves me unsettled, because of why he’s making this move, which comes in through the first bridge:

How slow the days go,
when you don’t come around anymore.
I’ll wait for sunlight in the grey.

Someone beloved is no longer making an appearance in his life anymore, and the absence represents a major void. Presuming that person was a positive influence and provided much needed brightness in his life, the absence of this light is, then, profound. Having read the press release for his 2016 album ‘The Midnight Sun’, I grasped that at the Arctic Circle, which experiences this phenomenon in summer when dusk never truly falls, it’s disconcerting to your body’s normal rhythm with the day when you don’t actually ever see the sun. Glasgow’s location by latitude isn’t as extreme, but I can see how having ‘light’ in winter is genuinely important because of the seemingly ever declining amount of daylight that time of year.

Three years ago before seeing a show at Edinburgh University’s Potterrow, I stumbled upon this cosy little bar completely by accident, hidden away in the old town. On each of the tables were those big chianti bottles with candles you see in Italian restaurants, the previously melted wax hanging over the sides of the bottles. For some reason, I was spellbound by the flame that was presently on my table and considered how important it is for the world to have visionaries, and how some visionaries are actually just normal people like you and me, doing what looks like ordinary things every day but their words and actions actually represent something extraordinary in someone else’s life.

In a similar context with this song ‘I’ll Be Gone by Winter’, I have been thinking about how people can provide figurative light, guiding others with their wisdom and love. Then my mind shifted over to the idea that this person who doesn’t “come around any more” could be someone who is no longer alive. Of course, when someone dies, there’s no more physical presence of that person. Their spirit goes on, but their flame has been extinguished. The loss of that person in your life is still deeply palpable. Notice, too, that in bridge one, Duncan sings of “how slow the days go”, then changes one word in bridge two to “how slow the nights go”. By the simple swapping out of one word, you’re presented with a contrast that serves to extend by time that feeling of loss. I find it’s also a useful contrast, in the sense that most everything looks and feels different in the optimistic (or harsh) light of day compared to the loneliness of the dark of night.

By the end of winter,
day and night subside.
The spring will come and bring the sun,
for a while.

Summer passed unnoticed,
autumn’s come and gone,
and rain will start and break my heart,
like before.

Like verses 1 and 2, verses 3 and 4 are paired like brothers. While verses 1 and 2 concentrate on the intention of leaving by next winter, verses 3 and 4 are concerned with the passage of the seasons. Duncan highlights how “day and night subside”, the extremes of the two become less obvious the further out you get from winter. Spring is mentioned almost as if a necessary evil, that the sun that spring brings is only “for a while.” Summer and autumn are mentioned in practically the same breath, and as if afterthoughts. Winter is clearly the star of this song, its ominous reach extending to “break my heart” as the seasonal rain returns “like before.

How slow the nights go,
When you don’t come around anymore.
I’ll wait for daybreak in the grey.

As mentioned earlier, bridge 2 features the line “how slow the nights go”. The last line of bridge 2, “I’ll wait for daybreak in the grey.”, is also more bleak than its sister line in bridge 1, “I’ll wait for sunlight in the grey.” This feels pessimistic, that a new day will dawn, sure, but with it, no light will come. He will survive to see another day, but just barely. Winter has taken hold and with its grip is a sense of foreboding.

I’ll be gone by winter,
time to say farewell.
I’ll be far from here this time next year,
goodbye, goodbye.

By the time we reach the fifth and final verse, Duncan returns to his original statement of intent, after taking us on a cyclical journey through the seasons. We’ve now been returned to where we started, in winter. We’re reminded that he hasn’t actually left us. Yet. At the end of a calendar year, it’s only natural to take stock of what we’ve accomplished, what we haven’t, how we’ve been wronged, and how we’ve triumphed over adversity. Although this song is slow in tempo and it’s definitely melancholic, C Duncan has tucked some lilting, ascending notes in here for us, marked above in bold, purple text. I don’t think those were put in there by mistake. As we all say goodbye to another year, one that has proven trying on so many levels, I think the take home message of ‘I’ll Be Gone by Winter’ is that there is still time, for change and miracles, and hope.

Lastly, a stream of the song, as it’s not been released as a single and doesn’t have its own proper promo video yet.

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Song Analysis #55: Jason Mraz – The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)

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Before going ahead with this post, please read this first.

Title: ‘The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)’
Where to find it: ‘Waiting for My Rocket to Come’ (2002, Elektra); released as a single in March 2003
Performed by: Jason Mraz
Words by: Jason Mraz and The Matrix

First, the words:

Verse 1
I saw fireworks from the freeway and behind closed eyes I cannot make them go away
‘Cause you were born on the fourth of July, freedom ring
Now something on the surface it stings
That something on the surface, it kind of makes me nervous,
who says that you deserve this, and what kind of god would serve this?
We will cure this dirty old disease,
if you’ve got the poison, I’ve got the remedy

Prechorus
The remedy is the experience
It is a dangerous liaison
I say the comedy is that it’s serious,
which is a strange enough new play on words
I say the tragedy is how you’re gonna spend the rest of your nights with the light on
So shine the light on all of your friends because it all amounts to nothing in the end

Chorus
I won’t worry my life away.
I won’t worry my life away.

Verse 2
I heard two men talking on the radio in a crossfire kind of new reality show
Uncovering the ways to plan the next big attack
They were counting down the days to stab the brother in the be right back after this
The unavoidable kiss, where the minty fresh death breath is sure to outlast his catastrophe
Dance with me,
because if you’ve got the poison, I’ve got the remedy

Prechorus
The remedy is the experience
It is a dangerous liaison
I say the comedy is that it’s serious,
which is a strange enough new play on words
I say the tragedy is how you’re gonna spend the rest of your nights with the light on
So shine the light on all of your friends because it all amounts to nothing in the end

Chorus
I won’t worry my life away.
I won’t worry my life away.

Bridge
When I fall in love, I take my time,
there’s no need to hurry when I’m making up my mind.
You can turn off the sun, but I’m still gonna shine, and I’ll tell you why
Because…

Prechorus
The remedy is the experience
It is a dangerous liaison
I say the comedy is that it’s serious,
which is a strange enough new play on words
I say the tragedy is how you’re gonna spend the rest of your nights with the light on
So shine the light on all of your friends because it all amounts to nothing in the end

Chorus
I won’t worry my life away.
I won’t worry my life away.
I won’t, and I won’t, and I won’t…

Now, the analysis:

In case you somehow missed it, Jason Mraz wrote ‘The Remedy’ after hearing his good friend had been diagnosed with cancer. Heavy stuff. But this would be a really short analysis if I stopped here, right?

I’m going in a different direction. In fact, I’m going towards what I thought the song was about the first time I heard it 15 years ago. You know, when we still listened to stuff mostly on the radio. Also, for the first time, I’m also going to start from the middle of the song and work my way outwards.

I initially made the incorrect assumption what this song was about. I was so sure this song was about not hurrying love, telling the listener to be patient and love will come in its own time. I mean, come on, isn’t that what these words are saying?

When I fall in love, I take my time,
there’s no need to hurry when I’m making up my mind.

However, I do concede Mraz’s verses are pretty nonsensical, so I should have guessed the real meaning would not be something as simple as that. Okay, so the first verse mentions “we will cure this dirty old disease” and the intention “if you’ve got the poison, I’ve got the remedy”. So that fits with his friend’s cancer diagnosis. However, what is this stuff about “I saw fireworks from the freeway and behind closed eyes I cannot make them go away”, then all this discussion about a strange radio show and “The unavoidable kiss, where the minty fresh death breath is sure to outlast his catastrophe”? Huh? What?

What I latched on to first, those many years ago, was one line sung so sweetly. “I won’t worry my life away.” Notice that Mraz changes the notes and lifts the positivity in one the final few times he sings this line, carefree and happy. It’s incredible. It makes you feel good.

Sing it again. “I won’t worry my life away.” What is it about?

It’s about anxiety. Think back to what Mraz’s actual impetus to write this song was. It’s not too far of a stretch to imagine that his own anxiety and concern about his dear friend bled out into the rest of the song. The emotions you feel when you’re feeling out of control, such as hearing the horrible news that your friend has given potentially a death sentence, is sure to elicit the big A in your life. You might be the least anxious person in the world and then something horrible like this happens and you’re thrown into an emotional tailspin.

What’s interesting is that in the last few weeks, the song has shown up on the channels I listen to on SiriusXM. As a captive audience listening to it while being stuck in traffic, I’ve been paying even more attention to the lyrics. Let’s look at this line first: “I say the tragedy is how you’re gonna spend the rest of your nights with the light on.” That’s another line about anxiety, yes?

The next line is curious, as it doesn’t seem to follow suit with the previous. “So shine the light on all of your friends because it all amounts to nothing in the end”. While I agree with some suggestions I’ve read on the Web that say it’s about enlightenment, I think it’s more specific than that: the haters and fake friends in your life. Putting a spotlight on them, calling them to the carpet, you will find out who will stand with you in your hour of need and who will falter or completely disappear. The fakers have no substance. They know talk is cheap and are good at stroking egos but when put to task, they cower and hide because they know they cannot stand by their principles. Because they have none.

If you apply ‘haters gonna hate, fakers gonna fake’ to Mraz’s true meaning of ‘The Remedy’, it’s a reminder that while he’s anxious and concerned about his friend’s condition, he’s the kind of friend who will stick by his friend through these tough times as he undergoes treatment. You can also link “I won’t worry my life” to the bullies who embody ‘haters gonna hate, fakers gonna fake’. The more you worry, the more you shrink and kowtow to those whose sole purpose appears to be cutting you down and killing your self-esteem, the less you are living YOUR life. Don’t let them. Don’t worry your life away. Live your life for YOU. And if you’re struggling, find out how to work with your anxiety or seek professional help.

Jason Mraz has faith in you. He wants to think positively with this mantra: “You can turn off the sun, but I’m still gonna shine.

Lastly, the song, which absolutely makes no sense to what I’ve just written above. You have been warned!

Finding personal meanings in songs – a reminder

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The other day while in my car, I heard Semisonic’s ‘Closing Time’ on the 90s on 9 on SiriusXM. A while back, I analysed the lyrics here for Music in Notes and boy, were some Semisonic fans upset when I had pointed out *what I thought* the song was about. I still don’t hear anything about pregnancies and babies in it. I guess it’s some big metaphor that went way over my head and doesn’t change my feelings towards the song.

I thought I should intro the next analysis post with the reminder that as noted on the About page, Music in Notes is about finding your own meaning (or meanings) in a song’s lyrics, to look deeper into the words. If the point of this site was to just tell you what an artist’s inspiration for a song was when he or she was drafting the lyrics, you could just Google or go to Wikipedia for that. You don’t need this site. In fact, I’ll go ahead and tell you now that Jason Mraz wrote the song after getting the heartbreaking news that his best friend had been diagnosed with cancer. But I am sure I am not alone in saying that the song has come to mean more things, personal things, than Jason’s original meaning.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many musicians about their music and what makes them tick. Some of them have told me that they are loathe to reveal the inspiration or be too specific on where something came from, for the reason that they want people who listen to their music to come to their own conclusions. And even if you do know the real inspiration for a song, straight from the artist’s mouth, the wonderful feeling when you come to your own conclusions of what a song is about is priceless.

Why? Because the song then has a personal meaning to YOU. It boggles my mind that we live in a world where there is plenty of information out there and some people are all too content to take someone else’s word as gospel for what something means. Have we become so lazy, so lacking in imagination that we can’t flex the brain muscle that we’ve all been given? If you’re that person, I don’t think Music in Notes is for you. You’re certainly welcome, but this site is meant for the thinkers and the dreamers, those who want more out of a song than what’s on the surface.

I’ve come to understand that this stance on digging deeper is also reflective of what life is all about. Have ever felt adrift, confused about what your life is meant to be and what you’re supposed to be doing here? For one, start peeling off the superficial layers that you have hidden yourself in and come to grips with both your strengths and your shortcomings. It’s a good place to begin.

**PSA ENDS**