Morning Music: If You Ain’t Got Love

Boneclouds - If You Ain't Got LoveMason Jennings’ next album was Boneclouds. It is more “pop” than his earlier albums. But that isn’t to take anything away from it. I want to focus on one song, “If You Ain’t Got Love.” The title makes it sound like just another love song. But it is actually written to the singer’s child who is born with a heart problem and may die.

In the song, the child survives. But maybe that is just an imagining. The point of the song is that love is something that transcends life and death. But also in the song is a theme that runs through all of Jennings’ work: that all we have is the present and we must grab onto it. That’s probably why I think later when the child jumps in the lake, it isn’t real. I imagine the singer in the hospital, loving that baby for what may be only minutes. But since love is eternal, it doesn’t end with the death.

I suspect most people will hear the song rather differently — and more positively — than I do. Regardless of how you see it, “If You Ain’t Got Love” is heartbreakingly beautiful.

4 thoughts on “Morning Music: If You Ain’t Got Love

  1. Well, having spent half the day fixing a computer virus for a college-applicant kid I used to run into traffic protecting as a toddler . . . fuck, we get old fast.

      • Yeah, I have no idea what that sentence was, either. Except maybe the pain and hilarity of caring about kids. I remember vividly how one day I was walking on the sidewalk holding this kid’s hand in mine, she was so frail and tiny, and she let go and bolted in front of cars because she saw, I dunno, a shiny thing, and moved faster than I could grab her.

        I screamed “STOP” as loudly as I could — and I can scream louder than anyone you’ve ever met. What good would it do? She’s completely deaf, can’t hear a jet engine. Thankfully the cars screeched to a halt as the kid froze in terror.

        I think part of what Jennings is getting at here is this kind of human compassion — which all of us received at some point from some adults or we would not have survived childhood (in the story I share, it’s the compassion of the car drivers who hit their brakes) — it’s not something we bequeath to others as a gift. When we’re at our most basic, we do it without thinking. It takes a lot of thinking and a lot of damage to rationalize turning it off.

        Congratulations! You finished the course. Four credits! I’d give you five if I could, but then everyone would want that, and my hands are tied.

        I’ve heard this song five or ten times before and I never caught the joyous under-the-mic laugh at the end. Maybe Jennings was going to be too darkly personal for Epic and he knew it full well, but had a blast playing around in the studio with all the fancy toys.

        Your mimeographed (remember that word?) handouts as you leave the classroom are as follows. The supremely sad song “Pittsburgh”:

        It’s possible Jennings is just channeling a character he created here — but I doubt it.

        And then, finally, the only reason I suggested this class, the giddily silly and joyful “Your New Man.” It’s pure baloney. And the audience is happy so hard they can’t help themselves. This is almost Steve Goodman-level. Maybe you have to go through the worst kind of despair before you can find this kind of light:

        “Goodness garage. His name is prob’ly Rog.” That’s like Lewis Carroll or Dr. Seuss all grown up, and it’s fantastic.

        Thanks for a fine week of work looking at an artist with an utterly unique viewpoint. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it.

        • It was interesting. I got to listen to pretty much all of the albums. There were a few songs that I couldn’t find online. If I were going on a road trip, I’d buy several of his CDs. In fact, a lot of the music reminds me of a trip I took out to Key West. I’m sure I’ll revisit him. I’m hopeful that I’m on track for a more reasonable work schedule. But last month I billed almost 200 hours, which is crazy for a freelancer.

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