Monday, May 2, 2011

Gone At Last [RIP, Phoebe Snow]

"My Little Town" was the first S&G collaboration in a while, "Still Crazy" was very relatable, and "50 Ways" had an irrepressible beat. So those being hits... well, sure. "Gone At Last" might have seemed too overtly gospel for pop radio (once again, the Jesse Dixon singers provide backup), but it grazed the Top 20.

The song itself is quite self-explanatory. It tells the story of an unlikely friendship. First, the man comes into a truck stop, presumably at the side of a highway. Is he a trucker? Maybe just a lone traveller. Regardless, he is cold and "weary" from driving down harrowingly icy roads. On top of that, he is wallowing in regret: "I was thinking about my past/ I've have a long streak of bad luck."

A woman sees him in his state of woe. She is possibly a waitress at the truck stop's restaurant, possibly a fellow solo traveller. She knows his despair is genuine and not some passive-aggressive plea for attention. The depth of his misery moves her, and she approaches him.

She offers something he needs more that a cup of coffee-- a sensitive ear. First, she asks what's troubling him so (shades of "Run That Body Down": "What's wrong, sweet boy?"), then adds that she can empathize. After all, she's also "had a long streak of bad luck."

He knows he has found a true fellow traveller-- not just down this one icy highway, but down the road of hard knocks. He enthuses that he has been "lift[ed] higher." In what way? He is less weighted down, as now his "burden [is] shared."

While she did not seem as "dejected" as he to begin with, she now admits that she had, in fact, been "sinking fast" as well under the weight of her own "burden." Her good cheer seems to have hidden some secret sorrow that, again, once shared, has been lessened.

Aside from the gospel setting of the song, the one-line chorus repeats the word "pray." While God does not reply directly to either pray-er, it seems that God has been instrumental in bringing these two lost souls together and used them to answer both of their prayers at once. They seem to agree that their meeting was "out of nowhere" and unexpected.

Can one person end another's "streak of bad luck" on a permanent basis? Perhaps not. But now that they each know that someone else shares their fates, and can relate to their stories, the streaks have been broken. Even if they do not end up together, each knows he or she is not truly alone.

Musical Note:
This is a hopeful, uplifting number, and it deserves a greater place in Simon's canon. It was wise of him to craft a number that allows him duets with women, say at festivals and tributes. But since it does require a female co-vocalist, it is not as often performed as it deserves to be, which may be why is is less well-known today.

It should be played on the radio more now, however, if only to make sure that his partner on the number, Phoebe Snow, is remembered-- she died on April 26, 2011 (a week ago tomorrow, as of this writing). Now that she is gone, there are surely many comprehensive obituaries online, which I will not attempt to duplicate here. But, as with any true performer, all you need to know about her you can find in her music.

Next Song: Some Folks Lives Roll Easy

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