“The Fashion Focus” is a breath of fresh air. It’s just so pleasant. It has the shuffle of a 3/4 song even though I think it is in 4/4. The piano and the guitar weave in and out of each other like people doing a Maypole. This song is a dance. Whether it’s the jumping from high to low notes and back again, those cute waterfall descending lines or the cheeky key punctuations during “You’re the one who played the keys”, this song is playful and happy. Strange for a song that mentions the world getting you down so much.
So I think you know
Were the first to go
Through lonely towns with one way streets
Met the ones I’d love to meet
By driving cars, deliveries
You’re the one who played the keys
I was thinking about this song in reference to one of my ex’s (the one who liked to play White Trash Monopoly) a couple of months ago when she called to tell me about a troubling health diagnosis. Oddly enough, I came to know her through work which involved me driving down a one way street to deliver cleaning and medical supplies to a mental health residence I managed. We knew each other for three years before we ever got together. The getting together business was a bit of a dance, jumping from high to low and full of unexpected descending lines. She didn’t play the keys but she had a lot of keys [insert joke about about lesbians and key rings here].
She was, in ways, a hard woman. She’d had a hard life with no family support. She made her way through life with a sarcastic wit, unbreakable discipline and a level of emotional discernment that could pierce through anything or anyone she encountered. I felt like she never even had a chance in this life. If she didn’t have bad luck, she would have had no luck at all. I felt like if she could just get away from all the influences in her life that fed off of her and if she could live an environment where she was loved just as she was, she could finally know what it means to live (ah, the foolishness of my 20’s). I set about making that environment a reality.
How you always notice when the world gets you down
I find it odd
How you always notice when the world gets you down
The relationship had it’s promising first years. Then things started to happen, frightening things. Life or death medical problems. Freak accidents. Life became a matter of conquering whatever the new crisis of the week was. And there was always a crisis; we couldn’t go two days without something happening. Whatever the new crisis was, I would set about solving it by force of will. My motto was the line from the Billie Holiday song, “The difficult I’ll do right now/ the impossible might take a little while”. I even set about using my brain power to factor probabilities of what might happen in the future and taking steps to prevent the inevitable. For example, I would take daily tours for the house looking for anything in the floor that she could possibly trip on and putting it away before she cracked her ankle again.
Finally, I got to the point of asking why it was that I needed to do this for another grown ass adult who should know damn well how to walk across the living room floor without sustaining a crippling injury. She always noticed when the world got her down; in fact, it was her preferred state of existence. If there was nothing in particular to be down about, wait 48 hours and something new would come up. I’m not saying she made these things up or exaggerated them; she did endure very real, difficult situations. I think that is more that she drew these things to her because it is what she wanted.
Why would anyone want to be down, sick and crippled all the time? Well, if it’s all you’ve known all your life, then there is a sort of comfort in staying in what you know. If you are held down by circumstance, you never have to deal with the existential angst of reaching for or fulfilling your potential. It’s odd, I know, but that is the way it was. For those who want such a life, they will never miss an opportunity to notice when the world gets them down.
You know what else is odd? That it is a sf59 song making this point. After all, Silver and Gold were pretty much all about JM noticing when the world got him down. Americana was about being angry about the world getting him down (which first requires noticing that it has happened). The Fashion Focus is something different altogether. It is a turning point, not only in musical style and skill, but in lyrical intent. It is almost like JM could be looking at his previous three albums and saying, “The fuck, dude?”
One thing that I’ve found to be true in my writing life is that you usually end up writing what you need to hear. I think that’s what this song is. It’s getting some distance from that voice that used to sing such mopey tunes and singing a new way of living into being. If you look at the entire sf59 catalogue, this song, more so than any other, is a fulcrum point. The balance of the musical and lyrical composition will never be the same as it was in the beginning. Just because you have been depressed doesn’t mean it has to stay that way for all time. Your perspective can change and you can look back at your previous life with a whimsical “It’s odd” and move on. And what a glorious thing it is!