. . . And Me
Last week, having been reminded by something or another of how damn good a song "The Rainbow Connection" is, I did a search on iTunes to see if there were any covers out there worth checking out. And, boy howdy did I hit paydirt.
This Willie Nelson version is simply astonishing. (Willie's own video is here, (and well-worth checking out) but it's unembeddable thanks to paranoia at Universal Music; the video below is a home-made thing set to the Nelson version by some YouTube denizen.)
It's just Willie and his guitar, and he plays with the melody and accompaniment some, eliminating the key change and revising the ending, but this is easily equal to the Kermit the Frog version. This is another song that I never really read as "sad" or "melancholy" but that, when you listen to the melody and lyric you realize is.
But more than that, Nelson's version kind of hits home for me how the song is about dreams and about how they sometimes, nay, often, do not come true. I know the song is ostensibly about the opposite - dreams do come true! - but something in what Nelson is doing here, in the way he sings it in such a resigned, weary voice, make me think that he's trying to tell us that dreams don't come true - but that they are well worth having anyway.
"Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide/So we've been told, and some choose to believe it/I know they're wrong, wait and see."
The implicit meaning of the lyric there is that the cynics are wrong and that dreams do come true, that there is magic in the world, and that miracles are real. But, and call me crazy, if you listen to Nelson sing those words, he seems to be signaling that he knows as well as you and I that rainbows are illusions - but that they are worth believing in anyway. Which, to me, is a much more powerful message.
"Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices?/I've heard them calling my name/Is this the sweet sound, that calls the young sailors?/The voice might be one and the same?"
I never caught the reference to sirens before, or the resulting inference that faith in something larger than us mere mortals ("hearing voices") might have tragic implications. But it's hard to deny that interpretation - especially after hearing how Nelson phrases those lyrics. Even in the lines "I've heard it too many times to ignore it" I get a sense of knowing subtext - he's heard the voices, the pull of something larger, and so he can't, and won't ignore it, but that doesn't mean he believes it either.
It's not just in the lyrics either. Listen to the way he plays with the phrases, subtly changing the melody in spots to prevent the phrases from being completed as neatly as they are in the Williams' original. That, to me, signals the ambivalence, and resignation that I hear in this rendition.
Lastly, I love his decision to end the song, not by singing, but by having a guitar play the melody as a kind of coda. The elimination of the closure the original ending provides - that "la da da da " stuff - fits in with this more shaded interpretation. Very effecting.