Skip to main content.

Sat, 18 Oct 2008

"If I Wrote You"

In the summer of 2000, a girl(friend) wrote me this in a letter after we had nearly spent as long away from each other as we had known each other (at least, known each other well):

If I wrote you,
You would know me,
And you would not write me again.

Okay, so "as long as we had known each other (well)" was about two weeks. She was quoting (and told me as much) "If I Wrote You," which you can listen to and whose lyrics you can read.

The song is an expression of fear. That was clear from the bit of it I had received, so it took me by surprise. The conditional on "You would know me" hints that the recipient of the letter doesn't know the author well right now.

So I started to write back about the trees and the snow,
And I saw a bird, couldn't say what it was.
But I thought you'd know,
You always surprised me.

Right at the start, Dar does a perfect job of setting a scene outside my home window in upstate New York (Rochester). As it happens, that's where Molly's letter was sent to find me, and where she would return after another week or two. But right through the scenery we see a reflective, impressed letter writer, fearing that she is not worthy of the recipient's attention.

After she got back, she would introduce me to Dar Williams, lending me a few CDs here and there. I have her to thank for a lot of things, including tuning me into Dar.

But in this song, it's interesting that Dar sings solo (sometimes harmonized against herself) except in every chorus, where a male voice joins her in harmony. Instead of harmony, it sounds more like a distant voice whispering in her ear, the voice of someone now unreachable.

The second verse, line by line, alternates the imagery of nature with obscure but personal imagery. It gives the song a sense of seriousness. The flooding of the recipient's stories into the writer, and the idea that the recipient knows this:

The truth was the only way out, but not the only way

speaks to a sort of dark seriousness. There is a way to get out of a mess, but everyone knows that success is not the only choice.

The third verse beings with a sense of irreverance:

We drew our arms around the bastard sons,
We never would drink to the chosen ones.

As the verse continues, I don't know how she left, or what she left. She's "steady now," but I don't know what sort of solace this gives her. Musically, the feeling the song gives me is the same throughout: distant and sad. The song is typical of Dar's work from the period: it sounds full, and no shortage of words. The song concludes with a sad certainty:

You will not write me again.

If the conditional at the start, "You would not," indicates uncertainty, this last form indicates a sad finality.

There's a theme in some of the other songs I've chosen, which is of women being strong to stand up to men who deserve it. Here, we see quite the opposite. The writer has certainty in love, unlike elsewhere where grating men destroy the protagonist's wonderful feelings. The doubt comes from a respect for the love's target as it mixes dangerously with her own insecurity; it yields an empty, unsatisfied longing.

So, hi. I guess it's particularly fitting that I'm using this song in a Dar Williams A Day, since I haven't heard back from you. But I've thought before that I wouldn't hear from you again, and I've been wrong about that before.

So I look forward to you writing me again.

[] permanent link and comments

Comment form

  • The following HTML is supported: <a href>, <em>, <i>, <b>, <blockquote>, <br/>, <p>, <abbr>, <acronym>, <big>, <cite>, <code>, <dfn>, <kbd>, <pre>, <small> <strong>, <sub>, <sup>, <tt>, <var>
  • I do not display your email address. It is for my personal use only.

Your email address: 
Your website: