Thursday, June 19, 2014

Angles of remorse.

I've been trying to find information on the story behind Joanna Newsom's song "Baby Birch" because it sounds too vivid to not be drawn from her own experience--specifically it sounds like a song of remorse over agreeing to an abortion. Lyrics from another song on the same record, "On a Good Day," also suggest she was pregnant with a baby girl at one point, a product of a relationship that ended in spite of her wishes to stay together. Others posting online have wondered about these raw and pain-filled lyrics and noted that Joanna and singer/songwriter Bill Callahan dated for a few years. "Baby Birch" was released in 2010, a couple of years after they split. His song "Baby's Breath," apparently a response to hers, was released in 2011, and also sounds like a song about aborting a baby girl. The likely story that emerges is devastating, especially given how often and warmly Joanna sings about children and motherhood.

Joanna Newsom, "Baby Birch"

This is the song for Baby Birch
I will never know you
And at the back of what we've done
There is that knowledge of you

I wish we could take every path
I could spend a hundred years adoring you
Yes, I wish we could take every path,
Because I hated to close the door on you

Do you remember staring up at the stars
So far away in their bulletproof cars
We heard the rushing, slow intake
Of the dark, dark water
And the engine breaks

And I said
How about them engine breaks
And, if I should die before I wake
Will you keep an eye on Baby Birch
Because I'd hate to see her
Make the same mistakes

When it was dark I called and you came
When it was dark I saw shapes
When I see stars I feel in your hand,
And I see stars and I reel, again

Well mercy me, I'll be goddamned
It's been a long long time since I last saw you
And I have never known the plan
It's been a long, long time, how are you

Your eyes are green, your hair is gold
Your hair is black, your eyes are blue
I closed the ranks and I doubled back
But you know, I hated to close the door on you

We take a walk along the dirty lake
Hear the goose cussing at me over her eggs
You poor little cousin
I don't want your dregs
A little baby fussing all over my legs

There is a blacksmith and there is a shepherd and there is a butcher-boy
And there is a barber who's cutting and cutting away at my only joy
I saw a rabbit as slick as a knife and as pale as a candlestick
And I had thought it'd be harder to do but I caught her and skinned her quick
Held her there kicking and mewling, upended, unspooling, unsung and blue
Told her "wherever you go, little runaway bunny I will find you"
And then she ran
As they're liable to do

Be at peace, baby, and begone

Bill Callahan, "Baby's Breath"

There grows a weed, looks like a flower
Looks like baby's breath on a mirror
My girl and I rushed atop the altar
The sacrifice was made
It was not easy undertaking
The roots gripped soft like a living grave

Oh young girl at the wedding
Baby's breath in her hair
A crowning lace above her face
That will last a day before it turns to hay

And good plans are made by hand
I'd cut a clearing in the land
And for a little bed
For her to cry comfortable in

And each day I looked out on the lawn
And I wondered what all was gone
Until I saw it was lucky old me
How could I run without losing anything?
How could I run without becoming lean?
It was agreed, it was agreed
It was me tearing out the baby's breath

Oh I am a helpless man, so help me
I'm on my knees gardening
It was not a weed, it was a flower
My baby's gone, oh where has my baby gone?
And she was not a weed, she was a flower

And now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing
Yes now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing