Two Sad Songs About Girls

August 19, 2012

I listen to Jango internet radio every day at work. I highly recommend it. I’ve discovered many great new songs, including the two I’m going to talk about now: “Be Careful” by Patty Griffin and “Lonely Girls” by Lucinda Williams. Let’s start with “Be Careful.”

This song has a very simple structure. Each verse is a list of girls in different places and situations. “All the girls in the Paris night. All the girls in the pale moonlight. All the girls with the shopping bags. All the girls with the washing rags. All the girls on the telephone. All the girls standing all alone…” And then the chorus comes as a request to the listener for how to treat these girls. “Be careful how you bend me. Be careful where you send me. Careful how you end me. Be careful with me.” Patty makes an interesting choice to switch to the first person singular for the chorus. It opens up the possibility of other interpretations, whereas the first person plural, “us,” would have made the message completely clear. But I think the “me” represents each one of the girls mentioned in the verses, and emphasizes the personal nature of the request. It’s a song about recognizing human fragility and treating each other with grace and compassion. There may be some feminist arguments against the message of this song, since it could possibly imply that women require a different and gentler treatment than men, or that women are helpless against the ways that men choose to bend/send/end them. But the fact is that everyday so many women are taken advantage of, exploited, and treated crassly or cruelly. The message of this song is: don’t do that. For me, it’s a sad song because it reminds me of how common it is for women not to be treated carefully. I found both the music and the message very moving.

Now here’s “Lonely Girls” by Lucinda Williams:

There’s a song by the Wallflowers that says “God don’t make lonely girls.” Maybe they should ask Lucinda Williams about that. This song is sad in kind of a lighthearted way. The jaunty melody and repetition give it a good humor despite the mournful vocals. The “I oughta know” in the last verse almost serves as a punchline. Sometimes I’ll smile at a song lyric not because it’s funny but because it’s both perfect and inevitable. The amusement comes from the fact that you should’ve seen it coming. “Sweet sad songs sung by lonely girls” indeed.

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