Is This Song About a Place or a Person?

Jonathan Skufca

Songs written about places are a dime a dozen. It‰’s almost as clichÌ©d as that clichÌ© I just used. The same goes for songs written about love interest. You have your “New York, New York‰Ûs and your “San Fransicso‰Ûs. You have your “My Sharona‰Ûs and your “Baby Blue‰Ûs. What I find the most interesting is a song that isn‰’t always clear if it‰’s about either—or both.

I‰’ve touched on this subject a bit earlier when I wrote on American Aquarium‰’s “Savannah Almost Killed Me,‰Û but this week we‰’re going to look at two more examples of this occurring. Once where a song sounds like it‰’s about a person but it may actually be about a loved place, and vice-versa.

First we‰’ll be looking at “A Love Worth Keeping” by (ever my favorite) Frank Tuner. Off of his second record, Love Ire & Song, this is an example of Frank‰’s earlier work in that it is gloomier and less radio-friendly than his later stuff (I still love when I‰’m at Chef Geoff‰’s and I hear “The Way I Tend To Be‰” though). Anyway, this moody, minor-key song initially seems to be Frank singing about a lover he left in bed—and he seems to regret doing so:

I left you while you were sleeping
Left you the warmth in your bed, where I lay
You left me a love worth keeping
You left me a diary to count off the days

Frank continues in a similar fashion, extolling how he regrets “losing‰” this lover, until the song climaxes with the last verse and the meaning of the song is no longer so clear-cut:

So I never knew
Loss ‰cause I had nothing to lose
Choice ‰cause I had nothing to choose
But, oh, all the things you do:

The way that you close your door
The way that you guard your shores
Darling, I‰’m coming home soon

It‰’s no secret how much Frank loves his homeland of England. Earlier on the record we had “To Take You Home,‰” a song about wanting to show a French girl the beauty of England. And his fourth album England Keep My Bones was an attempt to “make music that sounds English.‰” It‰’s not typical for someone to say they love how they “guard their shores.‰” While it could be a metaphor for loving how protective someone is of their relationships, it‰’s still a bit of a strange way to say that. I believe that Frank‰’s history—both as a sappy romantic and Anglophile—gives this song the ambiguity that makes it a great piece of art.

Next we have a song by yet another indie-folk band, The Last Bison. Hailing from Chesapeake, Virginia, they‰’ve described their sound as “mountain top chamber music,‰” and given the complexity of their music—compared to other indie-folk bands—I‰’d be inclined to agree with that description. The song in question is off of their 2013 major label debut Inheritance: “Switzerland.‰Û The opening verse seems to spin a pretty simple tale of a winter spent in the Alpine country.:

We tried to sleep up in the banks of snow
But soon discovered it was far too cold
We then retreated into town
To find a place where there was level ground
And call home

And oh! Switzerland!
You‰’ve taken away my breath now once again
You‰’ve left me with a sense of compassion
For the ones who
Can‰’t pick themselves up off the ground

Clearly an ode to the Swiss country as well as their people‰’s hospitality, right? Well, as the next chorus comes in, there is a bit of ambiguity on if it‰’s directly about the Swiss people or if the singer is just not used to having compassionate people in his life:

Oh! Switzerland
I never thought I‰’d have you as a friend
I‰’m praying it was not all pretend
I need you now
To help pick me up from off the ground.

So while it‰’s clearly not a romantic interest as seen is “A Love Worth Keeping,‰” “Switzerland‰” definite contains a bit of an ode to an individual that helped the narrator out. Just as Frank is both extolling this girl and the country of England, this narrator is extolling the country of Switzerland as well as the people that have helped him out when he needed it. Of course, the two aren‰’t mutually exclusive in either situation. Frank‰’s girl is part of the England he loves. The Swiss people are the nice, compassionate, caring people who help people who need it.