David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 221: David Baerwald (Born For Love)

January 27, 2023

David Baerwald's 1992 album, Triage, is as brutal as its cover, bloodied hands photographed over an American flag. With Triage, Baerwald, one of the two Davids from David & David's Welcome To Boomtown, chronicled a lot of open American wounds, whether the serial killer featured in the album's opener, "A Secret Silken World," or George H. W. Bush, most notably in "The Postman," where "tuxedos and guns, sir, become the symbols of a time/and rivers of blood, sir, in a sunny foreign clime/we keep with lies."

When he's not social or political critic, he plumbs personal Hells. "I saw my father naked drunk and helpless, and he was lying on the floor with a most peculiar woman whom I'd never seen before," Baerwald sings at the beginning of "A Bitter Tree." When he spats "forgiveness, forgiveness has never meant a damn to me/seems like a bitter apple at the root of a bitter tree," the lines crackle and spit, aided by the sparseness of the song.

In other words, Triage is not for the faint of heart.

All of the above songs are fairly melodic, but at other points Baerwald cranks up the cacophony to amplify the lyrics of disillusion, dystopia and despair.  The music to "The Got No Shotgun Hydrahead Octopus Blues" pretty much mirrors the dissonant title. "The Waiter" and "Aids & Armageddon" can seem like tumultuous detours on the highway to the Triage center.

All of these elements of discomfort through the first seven songs on the CD make the final triad of songs, "China Lake," "A Brand New Morning," and "Born For Love" all that more remarkable for their inherent musical loveliness. Such delicate instrumentation has not been heard since the first of "A Secret Silken World," and couldn't have come at a sooner moment. Heart rates decrease, as perhaps triage tactics have taken hold.

Lyrically, though, with this triad of songs, Baerwald appears not quite ready for transfer from Triage to intensive care (let alone, recovery). "China Lake" quickly dispels the title place as a relaxing rendezvous site, first with memories of "those who've died at China Lake" and later with the narrator admitting he had "a strange dream/indeed I cut my arm/a thousand times/but nowhere did I bleed." Meanwhile "A Brand New Morning" doesn't offer the greatest new day, not with the narrator not knowing "why I take it so hard/we're all living in a house of cards."

You're almost there, David. So close to some kind of peace. Given the CD insert image of you standing with a huge-ass scythe, we sure hope that troubled mind can find peace. Your finale, "Born For Love," provides us the greatest hope for that salvation.

"Born For Love" could be a simple how-to message for surviving in a world gone mad. "Every morning when I rise," the song begins, "I wipe the sleep out from my eyes, ask myself the question why, oh why, was I born." The repeated answer will be "I was born to love you/I was born for love."

Love is what is needed as we "go out wandering the ripped up streets, bodies on the sidewalk huddling for heat, the whole world looking like some losing streak." Musically, the song, with its recurring subdued keyboard and subtle percussion or guitar, could be Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," itself a speculation on the place of love in a world without love. (For the record, Springsteen's song came out in 1993, so who knows if he had heard Baerwald's masterful "Born For Love.")

The narrator's personal life could be as destitute as the world in its losing streak: "I get home and you're not there/but your clothes are hanging and your scent's in the air." He also may have tried suicide, "trying to shove through" "those pearly gates," with someone (St. Peter?) saying, as he is sent back, "Why should anyone care what it is you do? The course gets set; you got to see it through. That's why you were born."

The last verse starts with the same conceit of the first, narrator getting up, but this time "I saw them all, all God's creatures, great and small. It came in clear as a local call: I was born to love you. I was born to love." It's the loveliest sentiment, the greatest reminder of the one thing we can control while alive: loving everyone.

The song drives on for almost six and a half minutes, the simple swell of the organ for the final three minutes a reminder of the spiritual message in the song. It's a far cry, or at least, a half album away from how Baerwald wrapped up the first part of Triage: "I'm gonna make like a snake and shed my skin," his coda for "Aids & Armageddon." Nurse, you can go tell the loved ones that the patient has been saved.

One could argue that I am taking this song way too personal, given my own 10 days knocking at the Pearly Gates; certainly upon my conscious return to this world, I appreciate how I am born for love. However, that  argument would diminish that I have absolutely loved this song since 1992, a decade-and-a-half before I had to be hit over the head (or fall on my head) to actually learn to live it.

Baerwald, David. "Born For Love." Triage. A&M, 1992. Link here.

Day 220: REM "Cuyahoga"

Day 222: Jim Croce "Bad Bad Leroy Brown"


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