“Not the Only One”

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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.

“Baby Mine”

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Back in 1988, a collection of covers of Disney songs by various rock artists came out.  It’s stunning because it wasn’t popular rockers; they were cult figures and also-rans whose takes on Disney classics was ingenious to say the least.  Los Lobos’ cover of “I Wanna be Like You” was true to form, but let the inherent racism of the tune bleed through.  The Replacements sang “Cruella DeVille” with gleeful malice.  And Suzanne Vega did an a capella version of “Stay Awake” that I prefer to the original (it also gave the album its title).  There really is something for everyone here, providing everyone thinks Tom Waits should be singing “Heigh-Ho.”

One of the standouts was “Baby Mine,” performed by Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was).  It was still the beginning of her great renaissance, so she’s in top form.    The lullaby from Dumbo is turned into a slow, smoldering blues number.  Her voice is as tender and loving as any mother’s, even though Raitt never had children herself.  You don’t need to be a parent to understand this song and for it to break your heart.  This is a song for anyone who has ever loved any child.  I don’t have children, either, but there are children in my life.  And I always want to sing this to them.  “And if they knew sweet little you, they’d end up lovin’ you too.”

When I listen to this song, I understand a little bit the overwhelming love parents feel for their children.  They want the whole world to see what they see when they look at their children.  I think that’s part of why parents talk about all the wonderful things the kids do to anyone who will listen.  They want to express that love.  Sure, kids are frustrating sometimes.  And parents always know their child’s limits–“you’re not much, goodness knows.”  But none of it matters when they take their babies in their arms, and that little head rests on their shoulders.  All that love and trust and faith directed at you has to change you for the better.    So of course the rest of the world needs to understand and be changed for the better.

“You know that you’re so precious to me, baby of mine.”