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The Sun’s Not So Hot In The Sky Today: A Farewell to Summer in James Taylor’s “September Grass”

we’re so small and the world’s so vast

(I wrote this seven years ago and the girl I was in love with is long gone, actually both of them, but the song remains. Somebody commented on the review earlier and on this late summer weekend, I though I’d post it anew -IL)

The thing about the past, not even the far, the immediate past, yesterday, is that it is a different world and we can never go back to it and it plays by different rules and we need to know them and we need to move on from them. I used to tell that to a girl I was in love with, over ten years ago now, I used to look at her dozing in a chair with her hoodie up over her head and I used to tell her how much I missed this moment already. I missed it as I lived it. I knew it was going to end as it happened; I could feel her move away from me with every step closer we made.

It was a short romance, 18 months from the day I met her to the last time I saw her, and I was 45 years old and she was 23 years old, just out of college, so it had a built in obsolescence, and I knew it was ending as it started and I think she did, at least pretty soon after: my fault, for not entertaining marriage and children daydreams. But I always thought we’d be friends till we died, but she left me for another guy and when they married they vowed to break off with all their past lovers. For her, there was only me and her first love.

In was 2002 and, though she didn’t know it, James Taylor’s “September Grass” was our song. At the time, because we once went to the US Open and we found a hedge or something, late August, and “I could see summer time slipping away”. There was just this sense of time slipping away from us and the world pulling us apart, I could feel it at Arthur Ashe Stadium, I could feel it as we held hands in the nosebleed sits and watched the match but aimlessly. We had to leave at 10pm, I had to get her back to Long Island, but that was a couple of hours further along and in this other country, a country that doesn’t nearly exist today, not that I would contact her but if I contacted her, her husband would put a beating on me. That’s now, and she’s a different girl, woman, anyway, she isn’t who she was and never will be and the girl sitting and watching the ball flick back and forth, and the players grunt in time, that was then. And I was really happy and I was happier because I knew I was happy.

In “September Grass”, Taylor is lying in the grass with a woman, and he feels secure and so small, so far away, like tiny, he compares him and his girl to ants on a leaf of grass and the huge world is surrounding them but they are ignoring it. Their smallness and their togetherness protecting them from the world, their insignificance is their freedom and that is exactly how I felt, last row of Arthur Ashe stadium, holding hands with this girl and with all the hushedness and yet movement, of all the people surrounding us on every side, I felt part of something, an aloneness for two.

Yeah, now I know it was simply love but it felt deeper than love, it was like some strange way out of the potential horrors of life.

And now, when I listen to “September Grass”, the first song off Taylor’s last album of new material (written by his friend John Sheldon, from a terrific album Sometimes You Get Lucky), the very fine October Road, I hear a different verse. The line I cling to is “Where is she now? I don’t know.” Actually, I do know where she is, she is in the past; she is somewhere I can’t reach any way except by memory, it is almost by imagination. It couldn’t have been that good, could it? I knew it was, I didn’t have any doubts but that it was. Then when it went bad –and it went very bad, and I couldn’t control the badness, I just lost my grasp of the situation. She was simply gone. But when it went bad, when I remember the bad, it terrifies me. How much can you hurt?

When love really dies, it is replaced by indifference and indifference is what happens to a man when the woman he loves turns off, the words, the sound of your voice, feels fake to you and it loses its effect on her. Just a coldness where before when you spoke it turned her towards you now it leaves her in the same place. It is like when you get sick of a song, when you can’t hear it any more. It sounds the same but it isn’t the same, the hook has stopped hooking. Same thing when you lose a love. You become a song everyone is sick of, you become “Blurred Lines”.

I became “Blurred Lines” and I wrote a story about it. In the story, she was having a girls night out and they decided to go to the theater and they had a seat in the balcony and the play really sucked and she was getting more and more bored and finally she jumped off the balcony and discovered she could fly. She flew once, twice, three times round the theater, and then all the way to Long Island and her parent’s home. She landed and she walked in and she telephoned (landlines folks!) her husband and waited for him to come and pick her up.

What had this to do with anything? It was an end of the affair story, I wrote the entire thing without referencing myself or my feelings once. I wrote myself out of her life and that’s why I wrote it. To write myself out.

Not unlike the way Taylor is written out of the girl he kissed at a football game in “September Grass”. That girl and that Taylor, walking home from the game was there then, but now he is so written out of her life he doesn’t even exist. This deep feeling, “I was never the same” James concludes, belongs to another world, another earth, another time. It doesn’t exist, soon it will never have happened.

Soon me and this girl will never have happened. We will be dead and there will be nobody left who remembers it. I think of that when I think of my Mom who died in 2010. When she died something of me died because pieces of information about me died with her. And pieces of me died in the past with the girl; there are things I felt I won’t feel again. Oh, I’m in love now, so I don’t mean love at all, I mean a certain crystalized moment that skims my heart as like the last days of summer and my life, and hers, slips away.

“The sun’s not so hot in the sky today…” Taylor begins his song, and that time. It was the time I spent with her at the US Open, same time of year exactly, and as I sat somewhere at some other time, I could feel it leave me, time slip slip slip through my fingers, through my grasp, like sand.

And she was gone.

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