“If I was Leonard Cohen or some other songwriting master/I’d know to first get the oral sex and write the song about it after.”

I’ve always loved this Jeffrey Lewis song.

I think it contains the meaning of life in seven minutes.

It’s a melancholy epic of esprit d’escalier – that brilliant French term for ‘staircase wit’ – the clever things you only think of saying once you’re leave the room and you’re in the corridor, on your way out. On the surface, it’s the story of a bloke missing out on a blowjob; but listen a bit closer and there are so many intricate layers of pathos. The longing, disappointment and regret that build up throughout the song seem to be hurtling head-on towards a messy existential pile-up.

The fact that the encounter is such a huge deal in narrator’s mind becomes heart-breaking when he reminds us to “just keep the sad truth in mind as I tell this to you/That we really only talked for a minute or two/And I never got her name and she never got mine/But in this couple short minutes we had a pretty good time”. Then, at the point where he sings, “When the three of them stopped to look through a pub window/I said ‘Goodnight’ though I had not quite meant to”, it feels as though he’s condemned to a lifetime of self-sabotaging cowardice. But…he somehow manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with the unexpectedly uplifting moral to the story.

The idea of a song telling a story is clearly nothing new but in a world of offensively inoffensive hits, inane bangerz and passionately performed blandness, a simple story told in a modest manner feels rare and precious. It’s a reminder about the power of straightforward, direct, honest communication. Something I’m aways striving for – sometimes less successfully than others – in my own work.

And meanwhile, I always wonder if the girl in the song ever got in touch Jeffrey Lewis…

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About antmelder
Creative Partner at DDB Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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