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Thu, 16 Oct 2008

"As Cool As I Am"

I think this song is my favorite Dar Williams song. You should really give it a listen and read the lyrics. So much for this being a daily serial! But hopefully I'll get back on track for these last few days.

The song begins with a forceful rhythm from what sounds like a didgeridoo. "Yeah, there was a time," the voice begins seamlessly. We see her dating some, well, some jerk. She "was no sister then" - she did not stand up to support women in general.

You point, you have a word for every woman you can lay your eyes on
Like you own them, just because you bought the time
And you turn to me:

The music swells at "like you own them" and then stops. Without a background, Dar emphasizes:

You say you hope I'm not threatened.

"Bought the time"? Maybe they are at a strip club. But now they're at a more normal venue: "we're at a club":

You watch the woman dancing--she is drunk,
She is smiling, and she's falling in a slow descending funk.

Dar judges: "She is drunk." She is smiling, but she is not really in control of herself. At the end of the first verse, Dar's date makes his point. Like last time, his point is something worth rolling one's eyes at. This time, Dar manages to respond:

You play the artist, saying, "Is it how she moves, or how she looks?"
I say, it's loneliness, suspended to our own like grappling hooks,
And as long as she's got noise, she's fine.

We can see her judgment of the woman in her response here. Her remark that the woman's loneliness is "suspended to our own [loneliness]" indicates that the judgement is not meant as harsh, as we are not to be spared. Dar offers to help the woman learn to dance afterwards. Is this sarcastic? I think instead it is a sincere offer to teach something other than loneliness. Dar exposes herself herself by attacking the pseudo-intellectual question asked by her date.

The chorus changes slightly through the course of the song. Throughout, she declares, "I will not be afraid of women." Toward the start of the song, we might imagine she means, "I am not afraid;" her utter lack of discomfort explains her not replying. From the first chorus to the second, the first changes, emphasizing how she does not see the other women as people to compete against.

She recognizes the self-doubt her partner has been trying to trick her into feeling. Emotional trust comes from tenderness, sharing moments and feelings that aren't shown to everyone. This closeness seems missing to her: "I thought you knew how to be scared." Instead, our antagonist is always sure of himself, never risking his own feelings; rather, always risking Dar's. In a declaration of strength:

But truth is just like time, it catches up and it just keeps going,
And so I'm leaving.

"You can find out how much better things can get," she sneers. She is vulnerable: "I feel a little worse than I did when we met." We don't know if this is because his tricks have worked a little or just because of the usual feelings of loss. Dar sneaks in a breath just before, "And then I go outside to join the others." I hear a smile, maybe half of a laugh at her own joke, in that "And." She is "the others," because there is no one left beside this partner inside.

"Oh, and that's not easy," is the final variant of the chorus lead. At the end, "I will not be afraid of women" is a declaration that she has had enough of this (presumably) man trying to tickle her insecurity. What I love about this song is the combination Dar's expression of vulnerability and her ability to draw strength to take the risk of ending the abuse. It's not just a tale of warning; it's an honest telling that heeding this warning may hurt.

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