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Jay’s Jams: Alela Diane, The Way We Fall

Alela Diane - About Farewell

It was back in my home town
Drinking whiskey from the bottle
It was an indian summer
Wild fires were burning

I didn’t know it was the last time
You never know when it’s the last time
I didn’t know it was the last time

I walked miles after midnight
To a filthy attic room
I can still evoke the stale smoke
Of his cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes

I didn’t know it was the last time
You never know when it’s the last time
I didn’t know it was the last time

Tim was on the sidewalk
With his empty, ocean eyes
He was smiling like a shadow
And would never age, never age, never age

I didn’t know it was the last time
You never know when it’s the last time
I didn’t know it was the last time

A vision blurred through colored glass
The white washed walls of summer’s passed
The smoldering I do recall
The hopeless fade, the way we fall
The way we fall
The way we fall
The way we fall

Reflection

The relationship between words and music fascinates me. In the world of Jewish liturgical music, a number of relationships play out between music and words. On one of the spectrum, the traditional sing-song chant called “nusach” closely aligns the notes with the grammar of the words. In a sense, nusach is the prose of liturgical melody, in contrast to the liturgical poetry which gets settings that sound much more like songs than nusach does.

On the other end of the spectrum you get music that is largely divorced from the grammar and even the meaning of the text. Shlomo Carlebach melodies are a striking example. He composed a large number of niggunim (wordless melodies) that he would then use for prayers. In the very wordy psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, Carlebach tunes are catchy and soulful, but not only do they sometimes ignore the grammar of the psalms, splitting up sentences to fit the needs of the melody, even the proper accenting of words gets overruled by the needs of melodic stressing. In other words, the psalms and prayers seem only incidental to the moving melodies of Shlomo Carlebach – indeed, you might say that the words are only vehicles to help us sing the true prayer that is a niggun. From this perspective, the violation of standard pronunciation is fully justified when it serves to strengthen the feeling of the niggun.

I bring up this relationship of words to music because the song I chose for November displays yet another conception of what it means to sing words: the structure of the music reinforcing a concept present in the lyrics. Alela Diane beautifully voices a lament for sudden disruption of a relationship. Whether there is a death, some other serious injury, unexpected travel, or simply a break-up that happens out of the blue, sometimes we are made painfully aware that our most previous encounters are actually final encounters. “I didn’t know it was the last time…” One result of this situation is a lack of closure, because of abrupt change in situation.

Despite the fact that we know we cannot go back and we know we cannot have the goodbye we deserved, our hearts linger and stubbornly refuse to move on for a while. And this song poignantly reinforces that feeling by continuing on far longer than it should musically. The song could have been over around the 3 minute mark, but the tone shifts into a wistful and lingering refusal to move on and accept the sudden loss that continues for several more minutes.


Jay’s Jams post at the beginning of every month. Every song I post will be accompanied by a reflection, often but not always connected to Judaism, which elucidates or complicates the meaning I draw from the song. Occasional contributors will supplement my own favorite jams.

 

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