Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Patty Griffin: Be Careful

SONG Be Careful

WRITTEN BY Patty Griffin

PERFORMED BY Patty Griffin

APPEARS ON 1000 Kisses (2002), A Kiss In Time (2003)

NOTE For my money, Patty Griffin is the best singer-songwriter out there. She's at the top of her game in terms of writing and has the voice to match those considerable talents.

Patty Griffin's ode to female vulnerability uses repetition to make its point. Of the 24 lines in the six verses preceding the chorus, 17 begin with the phrase "All the girls". Of the lines of the chorus, which is sung three times along with a two-line coda, three of them begin with "Be careful." Altogether, 28 of the 38 lines in "Be Careful" begin with either "All the girls" or "Be careful". It's a simple, effective device that works perfectly with the song's verse-verse-chorus verse-verse-chorus coda structure in which each verse and chorus number four lines.

"All the girls" as opposed to, say, "all the women", heightens the sense of vulnerability by evoking adolescence and pre-adolescence as the essence of feminine innocence. This along combination of repetitive phrasing and a simple structure and melody make it easy for women listening to "Be Careful" to identify their own adolescence with song. Hearing Griffin sing "Be Careful", especially live, becomes a powerful experience that is both shared and individuated. a stroke songwriting genius that simultaneously evokes a sense of solidarity and the deeply personal.

What of Griffin's male fans? It's a reasonable bet that men who don't give much thought to the vulnerability of women are not Patty Griffin fans. In this respect, she addresses "Be Careful" to those men who perceive themselves as especially sensitive to women's feelings. It doesn't matter, Griffin says: You're still capable of inflicting great and unnecessary hurt. You have to be careful, too, maybe even more careful because your perceived sensitivity may have encouraged your partner to lower walls that would otherwise remain raised.

When I first saw Griffin in 2002, she had yet to come into her own as a performer and opened the show with "Be Careful." Looking back, this seems like a plea from artist to audience: I'm still relatively new at this, so please give me a break. By 2007 -- with five years of touring and two mature and exceptional albums (Children Running Through and Impossible Dream) behind her -- she opened with a confident, sultry rendition of Sam Cooke's "Get Yourself Another Fool." I've come a long way in five years, she seemed to tell us, and thanks for being there with me.

All the girls in the Paris night
All the girls in the pale moonlight
All the girls with the shopping bags
All the girls with the washing rags

All the girls on the telephone
All the girls standing all alone
All the girls sitting on the wire
One by one fly into the fire

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

All the girls standing by your beds
All the girls standing on their heads
All the girls with the broken arms
All the girls with the deadly charms

All the girls in the restaurant
Pretending to be nonchalant
Funny girls on the TV shows
Close your eyes and they turn to snow

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

All the girls working overtime
Telling you everything is fine
All the girls in the beauty shops
Girls tongues catching the raindrops

All the girls that you never see
Forever a mystery
All the girls with their secret ways
All the girls who have gone astray

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

Be careful how you bend me
Be careful with me

1 comment:

  1. K.-- I was doing some things in Google Reader and noticed this post. Yes, I like Patty Griffin! that was beautiful. I think I heard her on Mountain Stage at one time (do you know that PBS show?)

    I miss a lot of posts on blogs, and I am obviously missing some real gems on your site!