Dear Chris Robinson, Lead Singer of the Black Crowes,
I belong to that last generation of the early days of rock ‘n’ roll: people who taped songs off the radio. Yes, before the RIAA could prosecute people for downloading music off the Internet, I would steal bread from Metallica’s mouth by listening to the radio on a stereo deck with a blank tape. I still remember leaping from my bed, dropping a dog-eared copy of Stranger in a Strange Land, to sprint across the room and clumsily stab at the Record button. I remember my mix tape of 98 Rock’s current playlist, featuring such hits as “everything but the first six seconds of ‘Kashmir’” and “‘Hunger Strike’ by Temple of the Dog and the first quarter-second of a commercial for Ruth’s Chris Steak House.” I remember frustration at songs that plunged right into the vocals without warning (damn you, “Hey Jude”). Mostly, however, I remember your somber ballad “She Talks to Angels.”
Older now, with my own computer and the technology curve of the late 20th century to thank, I can download a complete version of “She Talks to Angels” (legally, of course) and listen to it in detail. The audio quality of an MP3, rather than a hissing tape and the aging speakers of a 1987 Volvo, makes several things clear to me. Now I know you artists are fond of things like symbolism and paradox, and that I shouldn’t take rock songs literally. However, I have some free time, so I’m pointing out a few inconsistencies that you might have missed.
1. In verse one, you tell us that “she’ll tell you she’s an orphan / after you meet her family.” This indicates a remarkable lack of tact on her part, as even the most naive con artist would realize the whole “orphan” jig was up after Mom and Dad stop in to drop off your Dali prints. Now, if she’s stupid, she’s stupid—but you just got through telling us that “she never mentions the word addiction / in certain company.” Clearly, this girl has at least a little common sense in social situations. Is she a good liar or a bad one? Which is it?
2. She has a “lock of hair in her pocket” that’s “from a little boy.” Ah, I reasoned, clearly her son, until you tell us that “she don’t know no lover / none that I ever seen.” I have to take that to mean she’s a virgin, so the son theory is out. So perhaps the hair was from a childhood sweetheart? Well, that means she’s had a lover: no dice. Maybe she’s an elementary-school teacher and one of her students, developing a crush on her, gave her a lock of hair and then died in a car crash the next day—but now you see how far we’re stretching. Really, some less abstruse language would have worked wonders here.
3. While we’re at it, you seem awfully excited about the fact that she doesn’t have a boyfriend (“Yeah to her that ain’t nothing / but to me, yeah me, it’s everything”). Do you think her current single status will make it easier for you to sweep her off her feet? The biggest obstacle to winning this girl’s heart is not whether or not she has a boyfriend. It’s your own self-confidence. Chris, you need to believe in yourself before other people will believe in you. Don’t hide behind a microphone and a big haircut; you’ve got a lot going for yourself.
4. You say that the “cross around her neck” is “from someone she has not met—not yet.” I always presumed that this meant the cross came from Jesus, which shows some really literate symbolism on your part: Christ’s love as a gift from a stranger, etc. But, remember, this girl is on a first-name basis with angels. Historically, almost no one talks to an angel who doesn’t also get to talk to Jesus. Mary and Joseph, the Apostles, folks at the Rapture, the whole lot. Yes, yes, I know—prophets like Ezekiel and Jacob talked to angels all the time without meeting Jesus. But the cross suggests Christian symbolism, so quoting the Torah’s not kosher. If this girl you’re so hot on talks to angels, she’s met Jesus: done deal.
Maybe the next time you guys tour, you could silence everyone in the audience before you started this one and just let us know that, yes, there are a few glaring contradictions in the song. Yes, the woman described in the lyrics is a nightmarish collection of conflicting traits that could not exist. But it still features the soulful acoustic hook that Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide described as “echoing classic rock without slavishly imitating their influences.” And that’s something anyone can appreciate.