Sunday, December 12, 2010

Patricia Barber -- "Snow" (2008)

Do you think of me in spring?
Do you think of me . . .
At all?

When you listen to this song, listen to the pause just before the last two words -- "Do you think of me -- (pause) -- at all?"  I think that little pause is what makes this song great. 

Last December 31, I wrote a post discussing another song by Patricia Barber -- "The New Year's Eve Song."  (You can read it by clicking here.)  I've planned all along to do a post about another one of her songs before 2010 ended, and thought I knew which one I was going to write about.  But I changed my mind and am writing about "Snow" instead.
The Jazz Standard's stage

Patricia appeared at the Jazz Standard club in New York City this weekend -- four nights in a row, two shows each night.  (Her last show is probably ending right about now.)    

I had hoped to be there to hear her in person.  Unfortunately, that didn't going to happen.  But I do look forward to seeing her perform live someday -- hopefully sooner rather than later.

I don't know if "Snow" was on the setlist at the Jazz Standard or not, but I'm guessing it was.  It's one of her best and best-known compositions.

It's just coincidence that I first heard "Snow" almost exactly a year ago, on a Friday night while I was driving home from downtown Washington in a heavy snow -- a big-ass snowstorm that dumped about two feet of the white stuff on my neighborhood before it ended a full 24 hours later.  It paralyzed the area for days.  

As "Snow" begins, the singer is asking her lover a series of questions. 

Do you think of me like snow?
Cool, slippery, and white
Do you think of me like jazz?
As hip, as black as night

The tone is rather teasing -- certainly not serious.  The questions become more and more sensual in tone, but it's all still just a game:

Do you think of me like fat?
Irresistible as cream
On your lips, on your hips,
Like chocolate, like a dream?

Eventually the singer stops asking what her lover thinks of her and starts making statements declaring how she thinks of her lover:

I think of you like food
I think of you like wine
I shouldn't lick my fingers
I'm drinking all the time

Things are starting to heat up, but we're still operating from the head (or perhaps the loins) -- not the heart:

I think of you like paint
Flesh tones and pink

The song's lyrics create an atmosphere that is quite palpable.  (Barber uses that word in another one of her songs, and it certainly describes the very sensual imagery that characterizes "Snow.")  The words engage our minds, and perhaps our erogenous zones as well.

It's all very satisfying intellectually, but it doesn't really touch you emotionally, and I don't think it's intended to.  It's just foreplay.

But the singer suddenly tires of the game.  It's all very well to lie in bed and trace your fingertips over your lover's body while you speak of snow, and jazz, and linen, and chocolate, and salt, and wine, and warm sand -- at least until you are no longer able to block out the nagging doubts and the fears that insist on rearing their ugly little heads.

Ultimately, the singer's need to be reassured that she really matters to her lover can't be denied.  She finally asks the question that is really on her mind: 

Do you think of me in spring?
Do you think of me . . .
At all?

That's how the song ends.  That last question goes unanswered -- and that means we all know exactly what the answer is.

I'm emphasizing the tiny pause in the last line of "Snow," but please don't misunderstand me.  The song works not only because of that short moment of hesitation, but also because of everything that comes before it.

Patricia has set the stage perfectly.  And when we least expect it, she delivers the coup de grace.  The cracks in the facade that she has no skillfully concealed from us suddenly become apparent.  I think the singer realizes that the structure isn't going to stand for much longer -- perhaps she has suspected as much for quite some time.

Less is more, and nothing at all (if silence is truly "nothing") can communicate everything.  The pause between the first and second parts of the last line ("Do you think of me . . . at all?") is like the split-second that passes between the exact moment a very thin, very sharp knife blade is inserted into your back and the moment you realize what has happened.  Life was going along in a certain way, but suddenly it hits you that everything is very, very different.

Here's "Snow":

Here's a link to streaming video of a recent Patricia Barber-Kenny Werner concert at Northwestern University.  "Snow" begins at about 56:15.  (Note that there isn't nearly as pronounced a pause before ". . . at all" in this version of the song.)

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Snow - The Cole Porter Mix

Here's a link to Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. The'silence is golden'.
    Thankyou, for your words.
    Patricia Barber is exquisite.