I fell in love with Joanna Newsom's music because of a boy. I had heard "The Sprout and the Bean," but it didn't connect with me; I was ambivalent. This guy I had just met was a huge fan but very shy, and told me that she was playing that night. He wanted to go, but not by himself. So of course I offered to go to spend time with him. Mission accomplished, but her performance was so incredible. He offered to burn The Milk-Eyed Mender for me and it was just about all I listened to for several months.
Anyway, I've been listening to Have One on Me almost exclusively since it came out, and I do love it but it wasn't as instantaneous as with her other releases. That's partly due to its length and number of songs. I think a few of the songs could have been released independently as an EP. Anyway, my love for the record was reinvigorated by Newsom's recent performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She played "Soft as Chalk" which I hadn't spent much time with. But her performance was so wonderful, and I immediately began listening to the song with more interest. Someone posted the video on YouTube, and I've rewatched it several times. Whomever posted it also posted the lyrics. I've always loved her lyrics, but I really wanted to read them in a normal sentence structure instead of a liner note one. So here are the lyrics for "Soft as Chalk" as I have interpreted them, as well as the video from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
So so long ago and so far away, when time was just a line that you fed me when you wanted to stay, we'd talk as soft as chalk ‘til morning came, as pale as a pearl. No time, no, no time; now, I have got all the time in the world.
Say, honey, did you belong to me? Tell me, honey, was your heart at rest when, darling, all the mourning doves were howling us a song of love's oh god-awful lawlessness, lawlessness? Say, honey, did you belong to me? Tell me, honey, did I pass your test? I lay as still as death until the dawn, whereupon I wrested from your god-awful lawlessness, lawlessness.
I roam around the tidy grounds of my dappled sanatorium. Coatless, I sit amongst the moles adrift and I dote upon my pinesap gum. And the light through the pines in brassy tines lays over me dim as rum and thick as molasses. And so time passes and so, my heart, tomorrow comes.
I feel you, leaning out back with the crickets, loyal heart marking the soon-ness darkness tonight. Still, the mourning doves will summon us their song of love's never-doneing lawlessness, lawlessness.
While over and over, rear up, stand down, lay round trying to sound-out or guess the reasons to sleep like a soldier without rest. But there is no treason where there is only lawlessness, lawlessness.
In the last week of the last year, I was aware. I took a blind shot across the creek at the black bear when he roused me in the night and left me cowering with my light calling out, “Who is there? Who's there? Who is there?”
I watched you sleep repeating my prayer. Give love a little shove and it becomes terror. And now I am calling in a sadness beyond anger and beyond fear, “Who is there? Who's there? Who is there?”
I glare and nod like the character, God, bearing down upon the houses and lawns. I knew a little bit, but, darling, you were it, and, darling, now it is long gone. Sweetheart, in your clean, bright start back there behind a hill, and a dell, and a state line or two, I'll be thinking of you; yes, I’ll be thinking and be wishing you well. We land. I stand, but I wait for the sound of the bell. I have to catch a cab and my bags are at the carousel. And then Lord, just then, time alone will only tell, you mourning dove.