“If You Could Read My Mind, Love”

A week before he died, Johnny Cash went into the studio to record a number of songs, among them a cover of the 70s song, “If You Could Read My Mind, Love,” for the album to be entitled  American V: A Hundred Highways, released posthumously in 2006   The knowledge of his loss made Cash dearer to us all, and the album went to #1 on the charts.   All the songs on American V are meaningful as a result of the singer’s death, but “If You Could Read My Mind, Love” is especially poignant.  Posted below is a Youtube clip of Cash singing it, and following that are the lyrics.

I have to say, I never really liked Gordon Lightfoot’s original version.  There was just too much of an “easy listenin’” singer-songwriter sound about it for me, and the competent guitar-work obscured the bitterness of the lyrics.  “The hero would be me / But heroes often fail”?–ouch.  As Lightfoot said in an interview in 2000, “That song is based on unrequited love and the personal upheaval I was involved in at the time. It’s about my divorce.”

That the song deals with a failed relationship seems clear, and that he likens the story to a movie or a book is also obvious enough.  None of it is particularly original, but then there are these strange parts.  Just what the hell is “a ghost from a wishing well” and what does it mean to get “burned in a three way script”?  I frankly never noticed the weirdness of those lines in Lightfoot’s original version, or if I did, I overlooked it.  In the rendition on American V, it’s   not Lightfoot’s cliches you hear but those very lyrics with their strange images that are most compelling.

For much of his career, Johnny Cash was the Man in Black.  That darkness meant different things at different times in his work, of course.  He could be sinister or tragic, but more often than not you hear a sort of gallows humor in his music.  And that voice!  On “Ring of Fire” or “I Walk the Line,” it just comes hurtling up out of the Pleistocene at you, so grainy and deep.  On this album, nearly his last (there would be an American VI), Cash sounds old, and while his voice retains its determination, you also sense his acceptance of fate.  People more informed than I am will pick out other songs as their favorites from Johnny Cash’s “autumnal” period, but to my ear, “If You Could Read My Mind, Love,” with all its unprocessed grief, is about as fine a finale as anybody could choose.

If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell.
Just like an old time movie,
‘Bout a ghost from a wishing well.
In a castle dark or a fortress strong,
With chains upon my feet.
You know that ghost is me.
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see.

If I could read your mind, love,
What a tale your thoughts could tell.
Just like a paperback novel,
The kind the drugstores sell.
Then you reached the part where the heartaches come,
The hero would be me.
But heroes often fail,
And you won’t read that book again
Because the ending’s just too hard to take

I’d walk away like a movie star
Who gets burned in a three way script.
Enter number two:
A movie queen to play the scene
Of bringing all the good things out in me.
But for now, love, let’s be real;
I never thought I could feel this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it.
I don’t know where we went wrong,
But the feeling’s gone
And I just can’t get it back.

If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell.
Just like an old time movie,
‘Bout a ghost from a wishing well.
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet.
But stories always end,
And if you read between the lines,
You’d know that I’m just tryin’ to understand
The feeling’s that you lack.
I never thought I could feel this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it.
I don’t know where we went wrong,
But the feeling’s gone
And I just can’t get it back

Advertisements

About Uncomely and Broken

I teach Latin and Greek at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Music, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s