Summer is celebratory with weddings (Laura and I just had our reception to celebrate our April marriage), so let’s hear some wedding songs. This is as straightforward as a title can be. Which do you prefer?
Bob Dylan’s song from the intriguing Planet Waves album is a rather conventional acoustic rambler, and if a bit solemn in its chords. It’s a list of particular ways the narrator loves his bride, with much use of the phrase “I love you” at the starts of the sentiments. At first it’s the things that he loves less than her: time, money, the stars, dreams, even love and life themselves. Then it’s the contentment of being sheltered from loneliness (“I say goodbye to haunted rooms and faces in the street”), as well as having a good excuse to give up other pursuits (“It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large/ Nor is it my intention to sound the battle charge”). There’s even the conflicted mention of offspring (“you gave me babies 1, 2, 3”) and the welcome character sharpening that comes with companionship (“Your love cuts like a knife” and “You turn the tide on me each day and teach my eyes to see”). These rhythmic phrases are mixed with the comforting familiarity of the Bob Dylan harmonica, which rounds out a song that never really rises or falls, just plateaus itself to the end. Is it appropriate for swooning a companion? I can’t tell, but it is colorful in its swirl of human phrases.
The next wedding song is framed before the event itself, with two people wondering how they can afford the celebration they so desire. After some smooth string and drum instrumentation, Ms. Mitchell asks in her squeaky singing, “Lover, tell me if you can/ Who’s gonna buy the wedding bands/ Times being what they are/ Hard and getting harder all the time.” And without a beat in between, the secret weapon is revealed as Justin Vernon picks up his half of the duo duties. He responds to the initial concern by outlining how the rivers themselves will provide: “They’re gonna break their banks for me/ To lay their gold around my feet.” Next, the female asks where the food will come from, with those damned times still being what they are, “Dark and getting darker all the time.” The answer now is that a song can persuade the trees to lay the wedding table, with sweet sugars and apples. At this point you can’t help but picture the musicians plucking out this duet on a sun-kissed riverbank, pant legs rolled up and not a shoe on any foot. A violin keeps the mood airy, and Vernon’s honey-sweet croon is a nice complement to Mitchell’s high-pitched style. There is a nice little coda where the male answers the final question (who’s going to make the wedding bed? the birds, of course), then sums in reverse the part that the trees will play, then finally the river where it all started.
Winner: Anais (uh-nay-iss) Mitchell, due to her own talents mixed with that of her ringer. Not every Mitchell song I’ve heard is quite this strong, but the ones with Vernon all are. He’s unstoppable, and everyone knows it. The Bob Dylan song is nice enough, but mostly because it’s Dylan, not because it’s a great song on its own. (Besides, these days I like my Dylan raspy and singing 12-minute songs about the Titanic.) While both are quite strong lyrically, the Mitchell tune is a wonderfully crafted little exchange.
What are your favorite wedding songs? Let’s dance to them.