Listening to Levon (30 Days of Marc Cohn — Day 14)

Listening to Levon
Join the Parade

This was the pop song leading off Join the Parade, the first studio album from Marc Cohn in a long time — and the first after he was shot.  This gave it some emotional oomph beyond the song. It’s a warm nostalgic tune which probably helped inspire (or at least reinforce) his desire to visit the songs of his youth in Listening Booth: 1970.

There are some flourishes I like.  The use of detail — his dad’s “blue Valiant”, his insistent remembrance of Mary’s hair and skin — give it verisimilitude.  The listener totally believes this is Marc remembering and sharing this fond memory of his youth.  Except, we learn later that key details are just made up:

I changed her name
To protect the innocent
I might have even lied
About the car

That has got to be one of my favorite lines in music.  It’s so playful and mischievous.  You can just see him grinning a wide smirk at us as he admits up-front the song is a sham.  I even love that he “might” have lied about the car.  We’ll never know.  That line struck me when I first heard it because I had been spending the early part of the song thinking — I kid you not — “I thought his dad had a silver Thunderbird”.  So part of me thought “Ah, that explains it” (as if a person only ever owns one car in his life).

As is typical, there’s more going on here than just reminiscence.  This month-long exploration of Marc Cohn’s songs has made me aware how very many of them involve relationships past their sell-by dates.  Cohn obviously didn’t stay with “Mary” — he doesn’t even know where she is now.  This courtship ended, and one gets the impression not too long after the rainy night in the car.  Apparently Mary felt his lack of attention.  Now, from the vantage of many years, he’s looking back and feeling regret — not that the relationship went no further, but that the ending of it hurt her, that he hurt her, and probably through accidental indifference more than fiery explosion.

The whole song is sweet but bittersweet.  Cohn is more than distracted — he’s “lost”.  His willingness to own up to his oblivious mistreatment of Mary (even if it has to be done via a broadcast with little hope of reaching its intended recipient) might be evidence that he has finally found himself, or at least made peace with what he did in his youth.  He wryly notes the best possible revenge Mary could have on a singer-songwriter:

It serves me right if
You can’t even hear me singing
If you tuned me out a long time ago
And it serves me right
If you already changed the station
And you’re listening right now to that old boy on the radio

One hopes that, maybe, Mary did hear the song, and forgave him at last.

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