In case you don’t know, and maybe I’ve never explicitly stated here in the pixels of I Will Dare, but the main conceit of The Beast is that a 50something former rock & roll singer is explaining the meaning behind her songs through writing her greatest hits liner notes. There’s more than that going on, but it’s kind of hard to explain.
I got the idea for The Beast after reading Mike Doughty’s memoir The Book of Drugs. In the book he talks about an apartment complex near where he grew up called Grey Ghost (at least I think that’s how it went) and I was all, aww, now I get the song a little more.
Voila, an idea was born.
However, I have recently learned there is danger in finding out too much about the songs you love.
Enter “Born for Me.”
This is the song as it appears on my very favorite Westerberg album “Suicaine Gratifaction.” If you click play you’ll hear that it’s a slow, bittersweet love song with lovely strings and backing vocals by Shawn Colvin. All of Westerberg’s love songs are bittersweet.
Though I cannot find any verification of this fact I believe it was Westerberg’s ex-wife Laurie Lindeen who said he always writes a sad twist in his love songs because he could never write one that is wholly sincere. I have no idea where I heard/read this, but my fellow Westernerd friend EM says she remembers this too. Also, we both seem to “know” that “Born for Me” was widely believed to be a song Westerberg wrote for his now ex-wife. I did try to find verification of this, but it was hard and I got bored.
In fact, this was a belief I held onto so firmly that when I saw the I Don’t Cares (the duo of Paul Westerberg & Juliana Hatfield) were going to cover “Born for Me” on their new record “Wild Stab”, I sent EM many exclamation-point-laden, swear-filled texts. Why did this matter so much me? I have no fucking idea, but it did. It does.
Then I listened to the song.
Nope. Still nope. 18,000 nopes piled on Nope Mountain with a flag claiming it for the Kingdom of Nope.
It sounds wrong. Westerberg & Hatfield’s voices don’t blend well. The music doesn’t match the lyrics, which is usually something I dig, but in this case it makes the inside of my lungs feel itchy. Like it’s too jarring. Also, it makes me want to punch someone.
And then the whole ordeal got worse. SO MUCH WORSE.
On the 22nd when the I Don’t Cares’ record came out Vanyaland posted and hour-long interview between Peter Wolf & Westerberg, and thus all my illusions about “Born for Me” were totally shattered.
The reason “Born for Me” is on there is because I wrote it about her whatever how many years ago it came out. . .
This quote comes from Westerberg’s lips after he spent some time talking about the deep romantic element in the record and how that’s why Hatfield wasn’t at the interview because there’s something about putting the relationship out into the world that makes them super vulnerable.
In a way I find that kind of sweet and makes clear the line “well, I’m the one to talk, you’re the one that’s free.”
And yet, I’m still so disillusioned about what he claims are the origins of “Born for Me.” I say claims, because I don’t think Westerberg is the most reliable of narrators (which makes me super curious about how next month’s authorized bio Trouble Boys is gonna play out). He’s often cagey and contradictory in interviews and seems to say whatever might be true to him at that very moment. That truth might be different in the next breath.
And I’m not entirely sure why this even matters. Why does the writing it for Juliana instead of Laurie make a difference? Isn’t the emotion behind the song still the same? Maybe
This new version sounds awkward to my ears. The new tune doesn’t sound like it comes from someone with lonely eyes or empty hands. It sounds a little bit like “ha, ha we’re fucking.” “Born for Me” feels tainted now.
Listening to this new version makes me feel like Holden Caulfield: “That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose.”
I feel as though Westerberg & Hatfield wrote fuck you right under my nose.