What I like about Spotify Premium is the fact that you have a mobile version, you can get instant access to basically any song you think of. It was terribly cold in Paris today and suddenly there was this line of a song popping up in my head. This often happens to me, and in many cases the line is such an ironic comment on my current situation that I burst out in laughter. Anyway, so while I took my bike, I heard « All the leaves are brown… » in my head. And searched for it on Spotify.


When I found an album by this name, I remembered the real name of the song I was looking for: « California Dreaming ». The perfect song for a cold winter day, it started playing while – my headphones under my warm Peruvian bonnet – I pushed my bike off to ride home. The song starts « All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. I go for a walk on a winter’s day. » and it goes on « I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A. ». After the first version of the song had ended, another one started and while I sit and write, I’m still playing versions of the same song. There are many of them, a David Hasselrock version, latin versions, chorus versions, ones with predominantly female or male voices, instrumental ones, versions that start like medieval motets, new age versions, a techno/rap version by Beverly Hills, a slow and soulful piano version by Pat Dinizio, fast running rock versions… . I guess I can now be considered an expert in California Dreaming, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you about.

At about the third version, I first heard the sentence that inspired this post (supposed to be a first one in a series about my favourite lines in pop songs). It says: « If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. » I had never noticed this line before. Two versions later it came back with a variation that I haven’t heared in any of the other versions. It was a female voice, and instead of « If I didn’t tell him, I could leave today » she sang « If I didn’t have to tell him, I could leave today. » It’s the version by The River City People that you are currently listening to. It intrigued me and I thought about it over dinner. There seems to be something more guilty to her way of putting it. As if she didn’t feel comfortable with the original line. She seems to be saying to herself: « I’d have to tell him. I couldn’t probably just leave. » Strikingly, the chorus is the same as in all other versions: « If I didn’t tell him, I could leave today. ». It nearly seems like it had been a spontaneous variation by the singer. This sentence is pretty much a summary of why I ended up leaving my last girlfriend after six years. I didn’t want to have to tell her – or anyone. My friend Thomas says that my desire for freedom is romantic. And coming from someone who would probably agree with Goethe that « the Romantic is the sick. », this is not a compliment. Thomas thinks that my quest for freedom is bound to end in disappointment. Maybe he’s right. Maybe there are tradeoffs. But as for now, I’m stuck with the belief that there’s at least relative freedom and that you can be more or less free. In the end, the freedom we have in a country like France, essentially depends on how free we are mentally. In my relationship, and given the way I was, having to tell her would have meant that I don’t leave.

The original version of the sentence is actually much bolder: « If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. » It doesn’t presuppose the obligation to tell. Not telling her becomes a way to leave, today. This version of the song has the libertarian imprint of the hippie age. But what seems like hippie lightness considered in this context, becomes very dark if you transfer the idea to a contemporary couple’s common city life. It’s only in my darkest moments that I actually told myself that going to get cigarettes and not coming back was an issue that would always be there if I wanted to leave (well, if I started smoking before).

In Schubert’s Winterreise there’s another dreamer (there’s definitely something about winter dreaming). After telling us about the flowers he sees on the window, he sings: « Ihr lacht wohl über den Träumer, der Blumen im Winter sah. » (« You are certainly laughing about the dreamer who saw flowers blossom in winter! ») This line first made me realize that there was something ridiculous about the (melancholic) dreamer. But I’m not sure if this is still the same topic…

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Comments
  1. L.A. says:

    Sick

    I crawl under your skin
    Like a rat crawling between the sanctums of your home
    Searching for warmth, nourishment
    Scratching through the walls
    Trying to get closer to the source
    I breach your armor
    To find only air
    And leave you with only
    An open wound

    Like a moth
    Teasing a flame
    My kisses flutter with your heart
    If I get too close
    You’ll burn
    With aching desire

    And I
    Would have died
    For love.

    Just my sick take on romance & relationships.
    L

  2. baycommuter says:

    I went searching for someone who understood this meaning of the lyric and found this blog…it’s a heartbreaking ending to the song. He or she wants to leave his girlfriend/boyfriend but feels trapped. Since the song was written by John and Michelle Phillips together, whoever came up with the line (almost certainly John, Michelle’s contribution was the church section) must have felt conflicted about telling that line to his spouse. They divorced a few years later.

    • Klaus says:

      Hey! Yes, I agree. It’s quite heartbreaking. Thanks for adding the information about the story of John and Michelle Phillips. I guess songs can also be autobiographic… .

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