Your extremely late post for the week of 6/25/2012…

“A Man/Me/Then Jim” by Rilo Kiley

I tend to be enamored of songs that tell a story, whether they’re segments of a rock opera, hip-hop fables dispensed by KRS-One, or ballads of the country, western, or folk varieties.  This song, which is the penultimate track on Rilo Kiley’s wonderful 2004 album, More Adventurous, has a particularly interesting conceit:  Each of the song’s three verses is sung from a different point of view, and it’s up to the listener to decide how they fit together and form a complete story.  In the first verse, Jenny Lewis sings from the perspective of an unnamed man; the second verse is from a female point of view (“me”); and she sings the third from the perspective of a man named Jim, whose funeral is the setting of the first verse — hence the title of the song.

This week I’ve enjoyed reading through the lyrics and then poring through some comments on SongMeanings.net to try to figure out the best interpretation of the song, and I encourage you to do the same.  The most compelling interpretation of the bunch was a comment by someone with the handle “heeeyyyjude,” who posited that the woman who speaks on the phone with the “me” in the second verse is Jim’s wife:

“The woman on the phone is married to Jim, we know this because she says to ‘me’ on the phone, ‘I’m sorry I’m hard to live with, LIVING IS THE PROBLEM FOR ME.’  And then in the first verse at Jim’s funeral, it says, ‘His note said, ‘IF LIVING IS THE PROBLEM, well that’s just baffling.’  This referring to his wife claiming ‘living was the problem,’ so Jim is being sort of sarcastic towards her by putting that in the suicide note.  Kind of like, ‘well if living is the problem, why continue living… thanks for the advice.’   And then I think the whole going to Diana’s old house was just sort of confirming his unhappiness, knowing how much love really does fade, pushing him farther toward his suicide.  Or maybe it was his way to sort of say goodbye to things he once loved, even though she did not live there anymore.”  [edited a bit for clarity]

Musically, I think that “A Man/Me/Then Jim” is beautiful throughout, and ideal for nighttime listening.  The acoustic guitar is a good match for this song, particularly given the subject matter and slower tempo, but this is far from a spare arrangement.  An organ shimmers in the background; wistful steel guitar lines lend the song a country tinge; plaintive trumpet and horn parts pop up when appropriate; and the drummer, Jason Boesel, provides a not-too-busy beat on the bongos.  All things considered, the instrumentation creates a perfect atmosphere for a song about coming to terms with “the slow fade of love.”  And that’s why this is probably my favorite cut on More Adventurous.

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