Song of the Week – Rock Me on the Water, For Everyman & Before the Deluge; Jackson Browne

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Today’s post was written by frequent guest contributor, Michael Paquette.  I hope you like it!

There are three songs in the early lexicon of Jackson Browne’s work that speak to the angst of the seventies brought on by the loss of a generation that sought social change and instead had morphed into a “Me” generation that was more about personal reflection.

The first of these songs is “Rock Me on the Water” from his 1972 debut album.

The social movements of the sixties were still fresh when Jackson Browne released this material.  Like much of his material this song is a lament rather than a battle cry.  The song opens with “the signs are everywhere you’ve left it for somebody other than you to be the one to care.”  Then in the third verse, he entreats his listeners with the line, “people look around you, it’s there your hope must lie.”  He holds out hope that the “fires are still burning, hotter and hotter” and that we will “get down to the sea somehow” and the “sisters of the sun” will “rock me on the water.”  Through this, maybe, we will remember how to return to the sense of social awareness and action.

His second album took two years to write.  The title cut from the album is called “For Everyman.”

This song was written as a response to the escapist vision of David Crosby’s “Wooden Ships.”  This classic appeared on the first Crosby, Stills & Nash release (1969) and was covered by the Jefferson Airplane on their Volunteers album in the same year.  In the song, Crosby envisioned how he and his entourage would sail away on his boat if society broke down or there was a nuclear war.  Browne’s song poses the question, what about everyone who doesn’t have the resources to sail away?  The song opens with an acknowledgment that his friends are planning to leave society because:

They’ve seen the end coming down 

Long enough to believe

That they’ve heard their last warning

But Browne still holds onto the concern For Everyman.  His concept of social change is through collective action, and the song concludes with his message to the ones who are leaving.

I’m not trying to tell you

That I’ve seen the plan

Turn and walk away if you think I am

But don’t think too badly

Of one who’s left holding sand

He’s just another dreamer

Dreaming about Everyman

This song clings to hope against the loss of the ideals of the ‘60s generation.

The third song is from Browne’s third album Late for the SkyLftS was written in about six weeks in 1974 as the ‘60s were receding into memory at the height of the Watergate scandal.  It was a massive achievement for him as he emerged as one of the brightest singer/songwriters of the era alongside such titans as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. The record featured the multi-talented artist David Lindley, who had been touring with Browne.  It is a spare and underproduced work.  It became his first gold record and reached #14 on the Billboard charts.  Much of it was written on a grand piano with his infant son crawling nearby on the floor.  The album concludes with the masterpiece “Before the Deluge.”

It opens with a reflection on the generation that was left behind.

Some of them were dreamers

And some of them were fools

Who were making plans and thinking of the future

With the energy of the innocent

They were gathering the tools 

They would need to make their journey back to nature

But much of the hope and idealism of this era are lost in a sudden rush to drugs and hedonism.  Many have forgotten and abandoned their values.  The generation that sought social change has turned inward for spiritual reflection, and many gave up trying to pursue change, except within.  

Some of them knew pleasure

And some of them knew pain

And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered

And on the brave and crazy wings of youth

They went flying around in the rain

And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered

And in the end they traded their tired wings

For the resignation that living brings

And exchanged love’s bright and fragile glow

For the glitter and the rouge

And in a moment they were swept before the deluge.

Browne also mentions that “some of them were angry” at the way the earth was abused but they have forsaken their call to arms and instead became preoccupied with their own lives.  This song still resonates with the loss of ideals, social change, and responsibility that is evident in recent years.  “Before the Deluge” offers less chance of renewal or escape, yet it does end with the idea that nature will reveal its secrets by and by.  Whether this will be a dark reveal or a light to the end of the tunnel remains to be seen.

Jackson Browne has always kept true to his values to use his music to speak out for causes of justice in society (antinuclear energy, antiwar in Central America, and support for Farm Aid and Amnesty International).

Enjoy… until next week.

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