Since the last post was all about the heartbreak involved in making break-up albums, I thought it might be nice to write about something recorded when a relationship was still good.
Bonnie Raitt, fresh off her career-reviving renaissance with Nick of Time (an outstanding album), followed up with Luck of the Draw (not quite as outstanding, but not without its charms) in 1991. She was also in love with actor Michael O’Keefe, whom she married the same year. Things were looking good for Raitt, and it showed. Although the biggest hit from the album was “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which all about heartbreak, there was an optimism to the music that you don’t usually find in blues players.
“Not the Only One” is filled with that optimism, the sweet joy of love in bloom, of connecting with someone who understands. It was written by Irish musician Paul Brady, but Raitt is a master at making other people’s songs her own (look what she did with John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”). Right from the opening organ notes, which are as light and airy as a summer breeze, you know that you are heading into sunny territory. She sings with light in her voice, the clouds in her voice remnants of the retreating storm of bad times and loneliness, “When I saw you face on the edge of my horizon, whispering that I wasn’t the only one, the lonely one.” There is a hint of sadness, of knowing that love is often a game of chance (the luck of the draw, perhaps?), when she sings “the slightest misapprehension, we’d have passed each other by.” This isn’t a teenybopper crush or casual hook up. This is mature, honest love. It’s a song about grown-ups who understand that “just when you least expect it, it comes sneakin’ up on you.” “Together till the end of time” becomes the vow it was meant to be, even knowing (maybe especially knowing) that sometimes “till the end of time” isn’t always possible.
It wasn’t possible for Raitt and O’Keefe, who divorced after eight years. But just for that brief time, she believed in happily ever after, and made us believe in it, too. This song is gentle and generous, an expression of love how it’s meant to be. Right before the fade out, over the light and airy organ playing, she breathes out “huh” and whispers “not the only one.” It is the most touching moment of a touching song. The moment when you realize that, just when you knew all its dirty tricks, love can still surprise you.
It’s the first day of spring tomorrow. Go out and be surprised by the universe.