It’s possible, I suppose, that a song can be about something, but the song doesn’t have to be that thing. This song, for instance, Take a Little Walk: It’s a song about a lifelong fear of the dark, about a night I spent in the woods behind our farm in an attempt to quell that fear when I was about 30. It made it onto a recording called Surgery in 1996 and then it sort of refused to be performed until it began a concert broadcast/recording I did for the CBC in 2007 called Pleasure & Relief: A Live Concert Recording, this version with a string arrangement. Eight years later, Stephen Jenkinson reluctantly peeled the cellophane from a copy of that recording, put the disc in a crappy boom box, pressed play, heard the string prelude, then the song. All the Songs of Love is an account of what happened for him next.
The first tour we did together in 2015 was to be our last. We had no designs on a long-term thing, and he said as much from every stage as we went along. An old theatre in Austin, Texas, is the first time he performed All The Songs of Love, though that’s not what he called it. It came out of his mouth as he was introducing me midway through the night, and it completely caught me off guard. Maybe him, too. On that old stage my song took on a new life, transubstantiated into a meditation on dying, leaving only the appearances of the original song intact.
The song for me now is both these things: my account of taking
…a little walk through them fields
Gonna carry me gently for my heart to heal
Gonna find me a demon in a dark, dark wood
You can’t come with me, though I wish you could.
and Stephen’s poetic response to that chorus, which to him was
the sound of how,
on bended knee, with knitted brow,
you can approach that little pile of regrets that mark you,
the altar of stones which is the ending of days.