From time to time I will post pieces like this that will examine the ideas and motivations behind the songs on my new album beneath a flagless moon.
I'LL BE THERE FOR YOU
A song over twenty years old finally sees the light of day. It’s true, these words were written that long ago. Along the way they have had maybe four different melodies attached to them. I even posted an earlier version under the heading “From the archives.” You can find it using the search window over there on the right. But even that was not the first version.
Obviously a song called “I’ll Be There For You” must involve a “you” – but too much time has passed to go into detail about who that was. Let’s just say she was real and, at the time, so were the sentiments of this lyric. I think I wrote somewhere, once upon a time, that the “offer to be there for her was real but I’m glad she never took me up on it.” That’s not meant to sound cold, it's just a recognition that, later, I wasn’t willing to live up to my own words.
Maybe it’s because of the time separation from the events that made me write these words, that I continued to search for the version of the song I was happy to put on an album – the song now had a life of its own, disconnected from the person who inspired it. I think the effort paid off. It’s certainly my favorite version of all the ones that exist. And Jim Oliver’s great keyboard work also helped cement this as being the version that comes the closest to how I'd always heard this song but couldn't quite nail in the past.
The words speak for themselves. I think their simplicity is what always drew me back to wanting to write better music for them.
Earlier versions, I felt, were always too sad. Yes, the song talks of dreams that are “beyond repair” and hopes that are “in retreat” but ultimately it’s a love song – the singer sets up these scenarios so he can make the promise, “I’ll be there for you.” But, of course, we do not know if the girl in question actually feels that her dreams or hopes are beyond saving. Something tells me all these years later that they never were.
I read somewhere that one of the greatest clichés in songwriting is the notion of being there to “catch someone when they fall.” And I cannot disagree. So here I had fun with it by saying I'd be there “just before you fall.” So the potential fall, like those broken dreams is an invention of the writer and may not have happened whether he was there or not!
My favorite line in this song – and strange as it seems, it is in a verse that was omitted completely from early versions – is “Call me when tomorrow seems too far for you to get to from where you are.” I think I like it for its optimism. Today not working out? Don't worry, there’s always tomorrow. As for “I’ll drive you there in my hired car” that’s an odd one. Why the car is hired, I’m not sure. It injects a little distance, a little of the impersonal, into a song that is supposed to be about a close relationship. But then when I look at it again, that sense of distance pervades the whole song. Maybe that’s why distance was needed to make it work.
One last observation: we did indeed used to hang out “in that little place down on Prince Street” – the Prince Street Bar & Grill, which today is a shoe store!