11 November 2012

There's something in my eye, you know this happens every time

I posted this on Facebook this morning:




And I went back and found some thoughts I wrote about Jim Croce, which I wanted to share:



Thoughts on "Operator":

He was 30 when he died. His music had just started to hit big the year before, after a brief career that included two albums recorded with his wife, Ingrid. “Operator,” recorded and released on the first album he made without Ingrid, shows just exactly what we lost when we lost him.

It always surprises me how many people are Jim Croce fans, and how many of them are fans because of this one song. Yet none of them love just this one song. Once you hear it, you buy Photographs and Memories or one of the albums he released in his all-too-short career, and you realize listening to it just how goddamn good it is. Sure, there’s some filler on those albums, but Croce’s best filler is still a hundred times better than what most of his contemporaries were doing.

Unlike say, Harry Chapin, who often let his sentimentalism get the better of him, usually to the detriment of his songwriting, Croce had an innate ability to use sentiment without making the listener feel like he or she was being used. You can listen to Chapin’s “A Better Place to Be” and feel it’s overwrought and maybe a bit soppy, and then listen to “Operator” and sit there stunned and think, holy shit this guy’s a genius. It’s more than Croce being a better songwriter than Chapin—Harry had his moments too, though not as many or as tightly packed into a short career as Croce did—there’s just something profoundly human in Croce’s songs, something that captures the myriad contradictions and heartbreaks and the thousand little shocks that flesh is heir to, and compresses and condenses them into this:

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s livin’ in L.A.
With my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
‘Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eye
You know it happens every time
I think about the love that I thought would save me

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

No no no no
Thats not the way it feels
Operator oh let’s forget about this call
There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to
Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
And you can keep the dime

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels


That’s damned good songwriting. Economy of thought, expressed in well-chosen words that reveal as much in what they don’t say as in what they do say, and an instantly hummable melody, with Croce’s simple yet heartfelt vocal driving every word home, putting you in the moment right there with him—you can hear the sad little smile in his voice when he sings “And you can keep the dime,” and it makes the song.

For all that it’s been played and played and played again on the radio, “Operator,” just like the rest of Croce’s catalog, does not get old. That’s a hell of a thing. Not a lot of songwriters have accomplished that in their careers. And for Croce to have done it not once but several times over the course of just seven years says volumes about what we lost.

He wasn’t even thirty years old when he wrote it. That’s what gets me. There are songwriters twice that age who can’t write a song half this good. Not everything Croce did subsequently was as great as this, but I think Croce knew it didn’t have to be--he'd already done this. “Operator” is to this day one of the high water marks in modern American song.

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