erik lundegaard

Song of the Day: 'You Can't Fail Me Now' by Joe Henry

It's amazing how many times you can hear a song without hearing it.

I'm a fan of Joe Henry's “You Can't Fail Me Now,” from his album “Civilians.” I think it's beautiful and haunting. According to my iTunes application, I've listened to it 68 times. But it wasn't until the other night, Wednesday night, in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, that this lyric finally sunk in:

We're taught to love the worst in us
And mercy more than life, but trust me:
Mercy's just a warning shot across the bow

Mercy's just a warning shot across the bow. Holy crap is that good. I don't know how true it is, but it makes me pause and consider and count up. To whom have I been merciful? Have I been in a position to be? And if so, how was I merciful? And what about after?

To be honest, I don't think I've been in a position to be merciful. That doesn't change my joy in the line.

The title and chorus can be interpretted different ways, of course: With hope or without. You can't fail me now because I'll love you no matter what; you can't fail me now because you always fail me, and I know it, so there's nothing to fail anymore. I tend to go with the latter interpretation. The song opens with a sense of stagnation and suffocation (“I know that fan is moving air”). Then there's the mercy line, which is basically saying: Let's not kid ourselves about ourselves. Or more directly: Mercy, my ass.

The video below is Joe singing the song a few years back in Amsterdam. I like the quiet rimshots during the intro.

Joe Henry is the Bob Dylan of his/my generation. Only a handful of people seem to know it.


Posted at 06:15 AM on Fri. Jun 22, 2012 in category Music  
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