"I'm a ramblin' man." How many songs have had those words, that sentiment... that excuse. This song is one of those.
It starts with the speaker saying that he wrote a letter to Lisa. (How many writers will find these lines describe their own process: "I got a paper and I got a pen/ I started to write, then I started again"!)
But this is not a love letter. It's a "Dear John" (Dear Jane?) letter, "a letter of good-bye."
The speaker admits that he doesn't want to break up. "This hurts me/ Just as much as it hurts you," he says. "I love you and my heart's at stake."
So why is he breaking it off? "This is something I gotta do." Is his mother dying? Is he being called off to war? Did his father, or religion, forbid the relationship? Did he just find out his ex-girlfriend is pregnant? Did he get an once-in-a-lifetime job offer overseas?
No. It's just, well, you see, the thing is, "My feet start moving and a I gotta obey... I'm a restless man/
I gotta ramble, I gotta roam/ I can't have a house and home."
Yes, he's a "Free Bird," the "King of the Road," they call him "The Wanderer"... We romanticize the nomad, the drifter, the one with the restless heart. We apologize that he has a "fear of commitment," and we rationalize that he has "trust issues."
But let's be honest. What he is, is immature. A one-year-old, if he gets distracted by a new toy, or even if just gets bored, tosses the old one aside. But a woman, a person, is not a toy... and a relationship is not a game.
"Promise me that you won't cry," he asks of Lisa. He wants to have no consequences for his actions, also a mark of immaturity. But of course his actions affect others. It would be better if he said, "I don't love you anymore," instead of "I love you, yeah... but I'm leaving anyway just in case there is someone better out there. Oh, and even if there isn't, being alone is better than being with you." Who would not be hurt, hearing that?
"Lisa, forget me; though it hurts, you gotta try," he says, although in way of a parting gift, he tells her "I'll think of you when the spring is here." Well, that and a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee (this was the 1960s!).
The song closes with the speaker breaking loose from the lyric and just "riffing" on the theme of the song: "Lisa, I love you but I gotta move on."
No, he doesn't "gotta." He doesn't have to, at all. There is nothing else that should command his attention or his plans if he loves her as he says he does.
He wants to move on. But if he were mature enough to tell her that, he would be mature enough to stay altogether.
It'll hurt, and Lisa might cry. If she has a smart girlfriend, she'll tell Lisa the truth. "Let him go, if that's who he is. Better now than later. Next time, you'll find a tree, not a tumbleweed."
Next Song: Noise