I recently felt the urge to listen to Jackson Browne again. It's funny, how much the relationships we make with music are like the friendships we make, especially those we made in our youth. They seem so much a part of who we are that -- whether we cultivate them, abandon them, take them for granted, or simply forget about them -- it is a shock one day to discover that they are no longer what we thought they were, and have been utterly transformed by the simple passage of time. Even though not a note or word has changed, songs that once seemed as profound and as beautifully wrought as a Shakespeare sonnet have become clunkingly adolescent, amusingly maudlin, or simply plain bad. They have not changed, but you have.
So, at first I dismissed that urge to listen to Jackson Browne. After all, it had been so long since I listened to those albums -- perhaps 30 years -- that I only had them on vinyl. It was obvious this would be an error of judgement similar to attending a school reunion or trying to squeeze into an old pair of jeans. I don't need more ways to feel middle-aged.
But then one of my work colleagues said she was going to Morocco, which made me smile, and the song "Something Fine" flooded back into my mind. I got a strong feeling that, in the words of the song, there might still be something there for me. Given I now have access to Spotify, there seemed no harm in it. So I gave in, and did it.
Once I'd got over the instant rush of nostalgia -- 30 years is a long time, after all, and it was rather like opening a long-forgotten photo album -- I was struck by several things. The first thing was how intimately I could recall these songs, as soon as the opening notes of each sounded. Once upon a time, it quickly became apparent, these songs had been more important to me than I now realised. Like a favourite coat I used to wear in all weathers, or my tobacco tin. My, how I used to love to smoke!
The second thing was what a good guitarist Browne is, in an understated but effective way -- if I'd paid more attention back then, I might be a better guitarist now. And what a clever wordsmith: "The world outside is tugging like a beggar at my sleeve / Ah, that's much too old a story to believe". That's good writing.
But what really struck me was how world-weary, how glum some of the best songs on Browne's first two albums are. Obviously, he'd packed a lot of living into his second decade, but he was only 25 when For Everyman came out, and at times he sounds at least 60. Or, at least, he does to my 56-year-old ears; to my 18-year-old ears he sounded plangent, worldly and wise. It's an odd feeling, revisiting a youthful enthusiasm, only to find middle-aged regrets were lying in wait for you all along. "So, you finally showed up. Where have you been all this time?"
But "Something Fine" is a stand-out song. Its mood of wistful, vicarious pleasure is the mood of a parent seeing a child off on a big adventure. To hear it in the live, solo acoustic version recorded in 2005 is best. Browne's age finally matches the age of the song, his voice has matured, his timing is impeccable, and I'd love to know where I can get one of those guitars. Of course, in 1971 in Britain you couldn't name Morocco without invoking "Moroccan", that ubiquitous khaki-yellow cannabis resin that must have been smuggled into the country daily by the ton. "Something fine"? Well, hardly. But by 2005 the knowing smirk has gone, and the innocence of the song shines through.
But you said "Morocco" and you made me smile
And it hasn't been that easy for a long, long while
And looking back into your eyes I saw them really shine
Giving me a taste of something fine.