goodbye england

Goodbye England – Laura Marling

Certain lyricists write in such a way that there is no guessing what the meaning is behind their words. They’re able to tell a story with often Hemingway-esque directness and simplicity. I often love these types of lyrics and the sense of…security, maybe….that comes from feeling so directly communicated with.

But here’s the problems with songs like that – they’re great fun to listen to, but they are not so fun to write about. It’s not as easy to have long, winding conversations with friends about songs that mean exactly what they say. Some conversation, some writing. But not much. And though I’ve never thoroughly tested this theory (because to do so seems dreadfully dull), I suspect that I probably don’t listen to these songs nearly as often as I listen to songs that require a little more analysis and introspection. Songs that require you to codify what they say to you, what they mean to you, are a struggle at times. And therefore deeply meaningful when you wrestle out the substance.

For me, there is no songwriter out there right now that embodies this latter type of lyricism more fully than Laura Marling. There are others, surely, who match her quality, but none that I can think of that surpass it. My favorite Laura Marling song is Goodbye England, and true to form, the meaning of these lyrics is not easily discernible. I’ve listened to this song so many times, and been moved to tears by it more than once, and still I couldn’t tell you exactly what it’s about.

Is it about anything? That’s a question I often ask about Laura Marling’s songs too. I have a feeling that she likely has a very definite meaning in mind when she writes these songs, but the way the lyrics come together often feels almost haphazard, as if she slapped them together with little preparation or intention. That almost certainly cannot be the case because no one could possibly write so beautifully without putting a huge amount of thought and effort into their writing (can it? Can someone be just that good?) But this perhaps intentionally offhanded style is exactly what makes Laura Marling’s music so deeply interesting and moving to me.

You were so smart then,
in your jacket and coat.
My softest red scarf was warming your throat.
Winter was on us,
at the end my nose,
and I’ll never love England more than when covered in snow.

Something about these lyrics always make me feel like they’re being sung to a child. It’s a feeling I often get from lyrics that are somewhat ambiguously directed. I don’t know why they couldn’t be directed to anyone – a friend, a lover, or anyone else. There’s just something almost protective in the way these words are sung that makes me envision that scarf wrapped around the throat of a child.

But a friend of mine says it’s good to hear,
that you believe in love even if set in fear.
Well I’ll hold you there brother and set you straight
I don’t really believe true love is frail and willing to break.

Wait, now what are we talking about? This is standard Laura Marling stuff. Just when you think you know where a song is going, she takes off in a different direction. Try to keep up, won’t you?

So she’s arguing with her friend’s opinion, then? Her belief in love is not set in fear, it’s more confident than all that. I don’t really believe true love is frail and willing to break. Idealism is not something that is a hallmark of Laura Marling’s writing, especially as her career has progressed. This song was recorded when she was about 18 years old (which is completely sick, and by sick I mean amazing, and by amazing I mean infuriating, and I by infuriating I mean…no, it really is pretty infuriating.) So maybe idealism could still shine through back then. I’m not as idealistic as I once was (and far away from even the memory of what it felt like to be 18), but I can still believe in the sentiment of that beautiful lyric. I still think it’s true.

Skipping a section, we come to these lyrics, which build to a real crescendo and form the beating heart of the song:

And I’m clearing all the crap out of my room,
trying desperately to figure out what it is that makes me blue,
and I wrote an epic letter to you,
but it’s 22 pages front and back and it’s too good to be used
And I tried to be a girl who likes to be used
I’m too good for that
There’s a mind under this hat

Out of so much eloquence, one does not expect to hear the word “crap”, and yet it’s this very lack of refinement that makes these words feel all of a sudden incredibly human and immediate.

I’ve written a few epic letters in my day. I’ve sent none of them. I used to think this was out of cowardice. And it probably was. Yet, the idea that these letters were simply “too good to be used” is a far more comforting, self-preserving thought. I think I’ll borrow it as my own.

And I tried to be a girl who likes to be used
I’m too good for that
There’s a mind under this hat

Did I mention she was 18 years old when this song was recorded? I don’t know if it’s that simple fact that gives me such a thrill when I hear these lyrics, but somehow I doubt that’s all it is. This kind of defiant assertion of self-worth is sorely lacking – in art just as much as in life. These are my favorite lines of the song.

And then, once again, the lyrics make a sudden turn. A reverse, really, back to the beginning.

And we will keep you
we will keep you little one,
safe from harm,
like an extra arm you are part of us.

The use of the phrase “little one” solidifies my feeling that these words, are in part, meant to be spoken to a child. Whether to a child or not, the maternal warmth that radiates out of the same passionate firebrand who sang the words directly preceding it is a marvel to me. How can she be so many things at once?

How terribly human of her. How terribly right.

Thanks for reading. Have thoughts about this song? Laura Marling’s music in general? Please feel free to drop me a line at anniemusicblog@gmail.com or leave a comment in the comments section. See you next time!

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