Last year, I posted a list of the songs that were played at my daughter’s baby shower (you can click here to see it).  An average of about 20 people per day have visited that page since then.  Apparently there is a need to remind folks of some of the good songs you or I may have heard over the years.

There are some songs get stuck in my head so that I think about them over and over for several days, so I thought it appropriate that I should start posting a song of the week to try to pass what is going through my mind on to someone who is trying to find a song.  This is my first try at doing that.

Since today is Halloween, it would make sense to choose “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett as the song of the week – especially since that was the first record I ever purchased.  Or, since next week is national election day, I could choose the Byrds’ “I Wanna Grow Up To Be a Politician.”  However, neither of those songs have been stuck in my head (until now, anyway).

Rather, last weekend, my wife, Cathy, and I were hiking with our dog, Darcy, at Staunton State Park, which is near Conifer, Colorado.  As we were walking along, just looking at the scenery and listening to our footsteps, I started thinking about Jackson Browne’s old song, “These Days” – “I’ve been out walking/I don’t do that much talking/These days.”

“These Days” is a piece that I have long considered to be an “accidentally” good song.  If you are familiar with it, you know that it gives a sense that the singer is world-weary and world-wisened.  However, Jackson Browne wrote it when he was only 16 years old.  If you listen to the words, or look at the lyrics (printed below) , you will find examples of his youthfulness showing through his words.  For example, when he says that he thinks about the things that he forgot to do, he adds “for you”; and I always found that distracting.  Similarly, when he says he will keep on moving because things are bound to be improving, it seems a good thought, but somehow out of place.

The song was first recorded by Nico in 1967.  Jackson Browne was only 19 then, but Nico was an older woman.  She was in her late 20s.  Besides that, she had a foreign accent that gave the song a sense of gravitas.  It introduced a segment of the public to Browne’s songwriting, but I never particularly liked her version.

A much better rendition was recorded in 1970 by Tom Rush.  Though he was also in his late 20s, Rush has always had a voice and delivery that made him seem older and wiser than the listener.  His version suffered a little from being over-produced, but I have always liked it.

Jackson Browne released his own version in 1973 on the album, For Everyman.  He was 25 years old.  I thought his arrangement also suffered from over-production, but it was done well (for one of his advanced age).

Recently, I came across the following “live” recording of Tom Rush singing “These Days,” with just a guitar accompaniment, when he was about 70 years old.  I like it – and he does not say “for you” at the end of the fifth line.  I like that, too.


“Well I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days
These days
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do for you
And all the times I had the chance to

“And I had a lover
It’s so hard to risk another these days
These days
Now if I seem to be afraid
To live the life I have made in song
Well it’s just that I’ve been losing so long

“I’ll keep on moving
Things are bound to be improving these days
One of these days
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend
Don’t confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them.”

Words and Music by Jackson Browne
© 1973 Open Window Music ASCAP, Companion Music ASCAP
All Rights Reserved

3 thoughts on “SONG OF THE WEEK – “THESE DAYS”

  1. I regard some of Jackson Browne’s work as part of the greatest poetry of our generation. “Our generation” being those of us who entered and exited our teen years in the 1960’s.

    Like most good poets he often expresses the melancholic, bipolar angst of the artistic seeker in the world, moving through the world driven by spiritual distress, knowing of his soul’s truth and true destination, yet pained and struggling and hung up and rebelling and confronting the ways of the world. His expressions seem to come from the edge of life, out there in the boundary land between humanity’s dark ways and bright truth, where he sees both the heart-breaking corruptions of humanity’s separate, selfish ways and the promise and purity of the natural truth of human beings united in the One.

    There should always be a motorcycle available when listening to two of my favorite Jackson Browne songs, if only in the mind’s eye, because each has a break into a riff that reminds me of how it feels to twist the throttle on the thunder and explode up the blacktop out there in the badlands and open spaces where the killing floor is behind you and heaven’s gate still far ahead and you don’t give a damn whether you live or die.

    I think that’s pretty cool. But that’s just me.

    Not surprisingly, “Running on Empty” is one of my favorites because it catches that place we all pass through as a merciless spiritual distress pushes us toward our destination. Crank it on the guitar riff and you find yourself desperately driven out onto the razor’s edge between life and death, between the confusions of duality and the clarity of the universe.

    In spite of some clumsiness here and there, and especially in the first verse where the music sets the mood perfectly but the words don’t do anything for me other than set the viewpoint of the lyricist, my other favorite is “Looking East.” One break there amps up on the hunger stanza, but this song is more of a symphony written for the throttle, ramping up and down, and when you ride with this one you run with it as the spirit moves you. There’s more here than the evocation of the feelings which are a part of spiritual distress. There’s an island of clarity in the middle of his howl, a question asked and answered. It’s the soul’s power and knowing, welling up out of the weakness and delusion surrounding it.

    Personally, I would have ended the song with a repeat of the power section, and the prayer released. But the way Browne wrote it, returning yet again to life’s fray and fret, does make one wonder whether his return was a choice made in the light of his vision of clarity – a decision to engage in the spiritual struggle between dark and light in the affairs of humanity – or just a return to a fatal and inescapable predicament where the individual remains suspended between heaven and hell, unable to transcend their location.

    Another favorite is “You Love the Thunder.” And I can run a looong way on “Redneck Friend,” giving that particular internal persona of mine an airing out. Those days are past now, but Honey and I still shake, and rattle, and move it on down the line. She’s still standing here looking like a dream that’ll never end, and I still have moments when I’m the missing link, the kitchen sink, and eleven on a scale of ten…

    So much for words which don’t catch it much at all (except for maybe them last ones)… Let’s ride.

    “Looking East”
    Jackson Browne

    Standing in the ocean with the sun burning low in the west
    Like a fire in the cavernous darkness at the heart of the beast
    With my beliefs and possessions, stopped at the frontier in my chest
    At the edge of my country, my back to the sea, looking east

    Where the search for the truth is conducted with a wink and a nod
    And where power and position are equated with the grace of God
    These times are famine for the soul while for the senses it’s a feast
    From the edge of my country, as far as you see, looking east

    Hunger in the midnight, hunger at the stroke of noon
    Hunger in the mansion, hunger in the rented room
    Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
    And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the laughing and the rage
    In the absence of light
    And the deepening night
    Where I wait for the sun
    Looking east

    How long have I left my mind to the powers that be?
    How long will it take to find the higher power moving in me?

    Power in the insect
    Power in the sea
    Power in the snow falling silently
    Power in the blossom
    Power in the stone
    Power in the song being sung alone
    Power in the wheat field
    Power in the rain
    Power in the sunlight and the hurricane
    Power in the silence
    Power in the flame
    Power in the sound of the lover’s name
    The power of the sunrise and the power of a prayer released
    On the edge of my country, I pray for the ones with the least

    Hunger in the midnight, hunger at the stroke of noon
    Hunger in the banquet, hunger in the bride and groom
    Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
    And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the questions of the age
    And an absence of light
    In the deepening night
    Where I wait for the sun
    Looking east

    “Red Neck Friend”
    Jackson Browne

    Pretty little one
    How has it all begun?
    They’re teaching you how to walk
    But you’re already on the run
    Little one-
    What you gonna do?
    Little one-
    Honey, it’s all up to you

    Now your daddy’s in the den shootin’ up the evening news
    Mama’s with a friend, lately she’s been so confused
    Little one-
    Come on and take my hand
    I may not have the answer but I believe I got a plan

    Honey you shake and I’ll rattle and we’ll roll on down the line
    And see if we can’t get in touch with a very close friend of mine
    But let me clue you in, it ain’t like him
    To argue or pretend-
    Honey let me introduce you to my redneck friend

    Well they’ve got a little list of all those things of which they don’t approve
    They’ve got to keep their eyes on you or you might make your move
    Little one-
    I really wish you would
    Little one-
    I think the damage would do you good

    Honey you shake and I’ll rattle and we’ll roll on down the line
    We’re going to forget all about the battle
    It’s gonna feel so fine
    ‘Cause he’s the missing link, the kitchen sink-
    Eleven on a scale of ten
    Honey let me introduce you to my redneck friend

    Honey you shake and I’ll rattle and we’ll roll on down the line
    I’m going to try to swing you up into my saddle
    And then we’ll run but you’ll think we’re flyin’
    Now honey don’t just stand there
    Lookin’ like this dream will never end
    Honey let me introduce you to my redneck friend

    • Speaking of “Redneck Friend,” Gregg Allman released a well-received version of “These Days” at just about the same time as Jackson Browne’s record was released. Several commentators have mentioned over the years that Allman ends his version by saying he is “aware” of his failures rather than that he had “not forgotten” them. That does create a slight change of feeling.

      Jackson Browne has written some powerful poetry as popular song. He was probably sliced and diced in David Geffen’s “star-maker machinery” as much as anyone, and he came through it with his artistic abilities pretty much intact. The subtle shifts in mood and meaning that many artists have given over nearly half a century to a song written by a high school student – and without changing the essence of the work itself – speak to the power of his writing. The best song I wrote at that age was “If It Wasn’t for Venetian Blinds, It’d Be Curtains for Us.” No famous musician has ever wanted to record that one, though I still remember how it goes, if anyone looking for a sure-fire hit song.

      For any ethno-musicologists comparing versions of “These Days,” perhaps the strangest I have heard is by “The Tallest Man on Earth.” You can see his YouTube video by clicking here. I don’t know if anyone has ever watched it all the way through (except I just did and after doing so, I like the way he ends it).

      • Watched it all the way through myself so you wouldn’t be alone. The palpable angst and ancient wail work for me. Sure hope he lives…

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