“Lost You in the Canyon”
Burning the Daze
Marc Cohn’s third studio album seems, more or less, to be universally seen as his weakest, and I guess I mostly share that opinion. But even so there are a number of quite good songs on it, and “Lost You in the Canyon” is one of them.
Got your call from California
But I could hardly hear your voice
Through the hissing of the highway
And all that other noise
I really like the extended metaphor, analogizing the erratic cell phone signal we all loath with the gradual decay and loss of a deep emotional connection:
Now all these things we leave unspoken
Seem to haunt me like a ghost
This is our first hint that this song is about more than a dropped call. It’s more than static that’s getting in the way; the call is failing to transmit the things they can’t say.
There were times I thought I knew you
Before these changes came to pass
But you don’t think about it do you?
From up there in your house of glass
The loss becomes palpable here. The regret seems resigned, sad rather than angry to discover that the other is not whom the singer thought he was. “House of glass” works on many levels. It denotes a certain ultramodern detachment and impracticality, a retreat into aesthetic that walls off the singer from his conversant. A glass house looks pretty but doesn’t make much sense. It’s also intrinsically fragile and even a bit reckless, even if it’s the singer throwing stones.
The Earth is shifting underneath you
The land is sliding all around
Do you ever stop to wonder
About that paradise you’ve found?
Ostensibly about the California from the first line, this is really an anguished cry that things are changing and the conversant apparently doesn’t even notice. A loss cuts twice as deep when only one feels it. This might also render the first line’s California metaphorical — it’s more the California of the mind than of the Pacific coast. While it’s probably reading too much into it, this really works for the times during which Marc Cohn grew up — late 1960s through early 1980s. This was exactly the time that California was shifting in the American psyche, from technicolor fantasy world to a grittier, harder-edged reality — when the paint had begun to dull at Disneyland — when the state, and the nation, woke up to the hangover truths of the times. A dimming and distant California, lost in static not music, fading from paradise into parody, speaks to everyone coming of age at that time.
I hear you moving through the mountains
Through the fires and the floods
But I can’t fix this bad connection
In the wires or the blood
This is the crux of the song for me. It works on a literal level, of course — fires and floods in California are nothing new. But it’s also about the wanton way in which we reinvent ourselves, obliterating what we were to become what we hope to be — and the losses we suffer, the things and people we leave behind, to whom we might speak but with whom we will no longer connect. There’s also just something gripping about the “connection in the wires and the blood”. (That might make a great title for a novel of the Internet age.)