Walk Through the World (30 Days of Marc Cohn — Day 13)

“Walk Through the World”
The Rainy Season

This song holds a special place for me.  Marc Cohn was a transformative album for me — heck, I even considered attending grad school at the University of Tennessee just so I could be “Walking in Memphis” — and so I looked forward with eager anticipation to Cohn’s sophomore effort.  This was both the first single and the first track on the album, so it burst upon me as the first new Marc Cohn I’d heard since the tremendous debut.  It had a high bar to clear.

The Rainy Season suffered in public estimation from being the followup to an album that won its artist the Best New Artist Grammy.  It had a different style and a different vibe from Marc Cohn, and it didn’t capture the public in the same way.  That’s a shame, because it’s really a strong album with many different nooks and crannies in which to find beauty.

“Walk Through the World” seems like an upbeat and cheery opener to the album, and maybe the dissonance this causes with the later, darker tunes helped undermine the popular appeal.  In any event, “Walk…” is catchy enough.  It’s a little unusual for Marc Cohn, in that it appears to be about a relationship that’s actually working.  There’s all the pop and hum of a couple in the middle stages of love, past the awkwardness, not yet pulling away.  There’s longing

I’m sitting in a lonely room without a view,
Wishing I was there with you instead

driven by a physical separation

I’m writing you this letter from some old hotel
I can feel the distance between us
From the Spanish Steps to the Liberty Bell
I know the angels have seen us…

But there isn’t yet the wistfulness of, say, “If I Were An Angel” or “Shadow“.

More interestingly, if The Rainy Season is a concept album (and I don’t think it is, but roll with me here), then this is the prologue/overture.  And that’s very intriguing indeed.  For while the song is peppy and the vibe hopeful, there are some dark clouds gathering.  First, although the singer sounds full of love, he has to implore his lover to walk through the world with him; they’re not doing it already.  There’s physical separation that, all too easily, could become emotional distance.    He’s writing not just from “some old hotel” room, but from a “lonely” one “without a view” — maybe the same one where things will fall apart in “Paper Walls”.  He’s wandered all over the world — from Rome (the Spanish Steps) to Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell) — but she’s stuck in New York (where I choose to believe Seventh Avenue lies).  Perhaps most importantly, she is just “hanging by a thread” — that phrase never means anything good.

Even though he’s in a room without a view, he’s “staring out across the rooftops”.  This means the room has a literal window but metaphorically he’s having trouble seeing — perhaps trouble seeing a future together.  Instead he sees the “writing on the wall” (another phrase whose common usage is ominous). And in what may the most brillant connection, he “hears a little bit of thunder” — a rolling tumult that presages the coming Rainy Season.

In the end, like many another pop-sounding song (say, “Every Breath You Take” or “Luca”), things are much darker underneath the brightly-speckled breezy chords.  “Walk Through the World” is less a paean to a flowering love than it is a self-consciously desperate attempt to will one into being.  Things are slipping away, and he doesn’t know what more to do but to earnestly exhort his lover to take the next step with him… knowing it likely won’t be enough.

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