This again is a song which bears a close relation to other songs on the album. As with the first three our initial reaction is to empathise with the narrator in his clearly intense misery. But just as the first three go on to provide us with a deeper insight into the narrator’s character, so does this one. In it he comes across as self-centred, dishonest, indecisive and irresponsible.
The song takes up the narrator’s claim in the previous song that the lover left him in the doorway crying. Here she’s told admonishingly:
‘You left me standing out in the cold’
But we find this to be somewhat dishonest because it turns out he was not left out in the cold at all, if this is taken to mean he had the door shut on him having been refused entry. The truth is that the woman left him:
‘Yes the last thing you said before you hit the street,
“Gonna find me a janitor to sweep me off my feet”‘
Since she is the one who ‘hit the street’, the narrator seems to have been disingenuously appealing for sympathy – his own, or that of anyone listening to him – when he gets us to picture him standing out in the cold. Why bring in ‘the cold’ otherwise? At the end of the song he implicitly appeals for sympathy again when he says:
‘I know plenty of people put me up for a day or two’
The intention is to make us think he’s downtrodden with nowhere to stay but prepared, nevertheless, to put a brave face on it. That we’re to think this is apparent from the phrase ‘plenty of people’ which implies he’s never going to be without help. But having given the impression we shouldn’t have to worry, he immediately takes this back and appeals for sympathy again by making it clear that the help on offer is limited – to ‘a day or two’.
As in the other songs, the narrator is hopelessly self-centred. ‘You took a part of me that I really miss’, he says. This is almost immediately followed up by ‘You took the silver, you took the gold’. In each case the focus is on him and what he’s lost, and he sees this loss in terms of material wealth. And when he’s not thinking of it as material, he may even be thinking of it- though not prepared to admit it in so many words – in terms of sex:
‘I need your love so bad, turn your lamp down low’
If it’s not sex, it’s romance he wants. Either way he’s failing to address the need to give which a successful relationship requires. His concern is himself – ‘I need’.
As in the earlier songs the narrator comes across as incompetent at dealing with the situation. After his lover’s janitor comment, which should have been a strong hint to him that he needs to give more, his own response – amazingly – is to tell her that it’s fine by him if she looks for someone else:
‘I said “That’s all right mama, you do what you gotta do”‘
So much for ‘trying to get closer’.
It’s ironic that he says:
‘Feel like talking to somebody, but I just don’t know who’
We’re left thinking that if he’d made the effort to talk to her, he wouldn’t be in this position. But, of course, such is his self centredness that he doesn’t even consider talking until it’s what he feels like doing. And when even now he has an opportunity to talk, on hearing ‘voices in the night trying to be heard’, he’s dismissive. The words are ‘mind polluting’. Presumably these voices are his conscience urging him to take appropriate action. But rather than facing up to what he’s being told, he ignores them.
Instead of being decisive, his approach is merely to wonder ‘how long it can go on like this’, and ‘what it’s all coming to’. And even when he does act, he apparently acts in such a way as seems to confirm our view of him as indecisive and not taking control. We learn this from his admission that the things he did he ‘never did intend to do’.
Instead of taking action his tendency is to procrastinate:
‘Maybe in the next life I’ll be able to hear myself think’
Comforting himself in this way is just putting off the effort of thinking out a solution when the effort needs to be made now. The religious language – ‘next life’ – perhaps widens the context so that we’re reminded that achieving salvation is a matter for this life. We can only be judged on what we achieve in the here and now.
In addition to being self-centred, dishonest and indecisive, the narrator is inclined to fool himself:
‘You told yourself a lie
That’s alright mama, I told myself one too’
He seems to be implying that his lover’s deception makes his deception alright. A propensity for what seems to be deliberate deceit is seen again in the contradiction between his claims that he’s ‘drifting in and out of a dreamless sleep’ and ‘I don’t dare close my eyes and I don’t dare wink’. Furthermore, and rather implausibly, he claims to need her love ‘for the places that I go’. But we’ve no evidence that he goes anywhere at all. He’s mentioned walking through streets and down a dirt road in previous songs, but no destinations have been mentioned. And even if the places he has in mind are those mentioned in later songs, it’s unclear how the woman’s love is relevant. The impression we get is that he’s just fooling himself that he’s making more effort than he is.
The penultimate verse is reminiscent of ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ in that in the repeated ‘Rock me’ he absurdly presents himself as a baby needing to be rocked to sleep. In doing so, he’s putting the onus for action onto his lover; he is the one who gets rocked. That his approach to life is back to front is clear from the way that it’s also the baby that’s doing the rocking:
‘Rock me pretty baby…’
The contrariness of his position is made apparent in the absurdity of wanting to be rocked ‘all at once’ – how’s that possible anyway? – and ‘for a little while’ and ‘for a couple of months’. Not only do the requests conflict with each other, but the final one involves ludicrous exaggeration. It’s an exaggeration which reflects the exaggeration of the claim ‘I’m a million miles from you’. He isn’t. All that’s needed to close the gap is for him to make the appropriate effort.