Copyright © Karl Dahlke, 2022
The most interesting love song, to my mind, was written by James Taylor in 1977, There We Are, the second track on his JT album. I'll bet you've never heard it on the radio; I know I haven't. It isn't the most beautiful love song, or the most romantic. It doesn't make me jump up and run into the next room and take Wendy into my arms. If I want my heart to skip a beat, I'll queue up: Barry Manilow Could it be Magic, John Denver Annie's Song, Chicago Color My World, Carpenters One Love, Lonestar Amazed, Shania Twain From This Moment On, Anne Murray You Needed Me, The Beatles Here There and Everywhere, or any of a hundred others. But this song, There We Are, combines love with the unfathomable mystery of the universe, and this incongruous juxtaposition always puts my brain into a very strange state. I'll present the lyrics first, and then describe what they mean to me. However, a written transcript doesn't do it justice. The song is more than just a poem. The imagery is more powerful and more compelling when James sings it. In fact the JT album is quite good overall. I don't recall how I stumbled upon it, but I'm glad it's in my library.
Listen to me and I'll sing you a song and the time will go by till you never know where it's gone. Talk to me and I'll tell you my life story. Walk with me and I'll tell you my dreams of glory. There we are walking hand in hand, somewhere on the sand at the end of the land and the edge of the shining sea. Drifting through time and space on the face of a little blue ball falling around the sun. One in a million, billion twinkling lights shining out for no one in the middle of the night. Here we are, sparks in the darkness, speaking of our love burning down forever and forever. Oh, I don't know if I told you, but you hold my heart in your hand. And I found out something about you, baby, without you. I'm a lonely man. So though I never say that I love you, I love you, darling I do, Carly, I do love you. And though we are as nothing to the stars that shine above, you are my universe, you are my love. Here we are, like children forever, taking care of one another while the world goes on without us, all around us.
As the song opens, two people are walking, and talking, and holding hands, as lovers are wont to do. Yet the setting is just as important as the action. Take a few steps back, and our couple is standing "at the end of the land and the edge of the shining sea." These people exist within a much larger framework, the beach and the ocean, with its waves lapping the shore.
When the second stanza opens, the beach and the sea are almost insignificant as our scale shifts by several orders of magnitude. These two lovers, and all lovers everywhere, exist "on the face of a little blue ball falling around the sun." Yes, the earth's orbit, and every orbit, is a form of free fall; the planet falls down, and forward, at the proper speed, so that the path traces an ellipse around the sun. But let's not get distracted by orbital mechanics. James wants us to contrast these two lovers with the entire universe, all space and all time. They live and love on a little blue ball, that circles a modest white star, that is "one in a million billion twinkling lights." By any reasonable standard, these two people have no significance whatsoever. They don't mean anything to the stars above, which are "shining out for no one." James uses the preposition out, rather then down. Stars don't shine down on earth, as though we were the center of the universe, as though we had a preferred location in space; stars shine out for no one. These two people on the beach look up at the stars and enjoy them, but that is just some electrical activity in their ephemeral brains.
For these two people, at this moment in time, love is everything. They recognize their miniscule place in the universe, and yet they are totally immersed in each other. Sure, they are just "sparks in the darkness", but they speak of their love "burning down forever and forever", somehow accepting the dissonance of these two concepts. The span of their love would have to be multiplied by 250 million to approach the age of the universe. Their love is nothing, in space and in time, and yet it is everything. “Though we are as nothing to the stars that shine above, you are my universe, you are my love.”
Even the title of the song is carefully chosen. You or I might have called it Here We Are, from our point of view, but James wants us to see these two lovers from a million miles away, a billion miles away, a billion light years away. There they are, right there! Two tiny sparks in the darkness, taking care of one another while the world goes on around them and without them. In a flash they will be gone, but for today, their love is the universe.
James mentions the name of his other spark in the darkness, Carly. This is Carly Simon, his first wife. Unfortunately their marriage only lasted ten years, and that is our loss. Ok, it is primarily their loss, the heartache of a divorce is something I can barely imagine, but we are also deprived of their voices blending together. They just seem to fit, as illustrated by Terra Nova, track 10 on the JT album. Other duets that made the radio include Mockingbird, and Devoted to You. The latter is a beautiful love song that fills me with emotion every time I hear it. In 1983 these two sparks in the darkness went their separate ways, but they have both brought much joy and emotion to the other sparks living on that little blue ball falling around the sun.