Saturday, May 16, 2015

Four Strong Winds

Canada drifter
Invites girl to Alberta,
But halfheartedly

If you're not listening closely to the words in this Ian and Sylvia song, you (as in "I") get the impression that it's a weepy song about lost love and the pain of enforced separation of lovers. But it's not. It's a far more ambiguous song about the selfish singer and the lover whose affections seem real, while his are suspect. 

The song begins with the brilliant beginning of the repeated chorus:
"Four strong winds that blow lonely, Seven seas that run high."
"All these things that don't change, Come what may.

And then...
"But our good times are all gone,
And I'm bound for moving on.
I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way."

You can tell that he's not into it anymore, so he's looking to light out on the road. To where? The middle of frigging nowhere, of course. And he leaves her with a promise, of course. "I'll look for you if." If!

At that point, he thinks:

"Think I'll go out to Alberta,
Weather's good there in the fall.
Got some friends that I can go to working for..."

Just at the point you think that he's happy that he's gotten her out of his hair, he makes this plea:

"Still I wish you'd change your mind
If I asked you one more time,
But we've been through that a hundred times or more."

Who's the ambivalent one in this relationship? My money is on the singer, especially given the maybe-maybe-not of the next lines:

"If I get there before the snow flies,
And if things are going good,
You could meet me if I send you down the fare.
But by then it will be winter, there ain't too much for you to do,
And those wind sure can blow way out there."

Maybe I read too cynically. Maybe they both know the relationship is dead, and he can't bring himself to make a clean break.

Whatever it's all about, it's a lovely song, and it hits you with the heartbreak of the big sky and the prairie just like a good song should.

Bob Dylan recorded this with the Band during the 1967 Basement Tapes sessions. It's a rough job, but has its own flawed beauty. Here it is, followed by a live performance by Ian and Sylvia from 1986 and Neil Young's performance of it from the film "Heart of Gold." I recommend his studio version on "Comes a Time." It's my favorite version.







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