Song of the Day #300: ‘Go or Go Ahead’ – Rufus Wainwright

wantoneIt’s appropriate that chance has put me in a position to choose as my 300th Song of the Day a tune I consider one of my very favorites ever.

Indeed, Rufus Wainwright’s third album Want One is itself on my short list of very favorite albums. Want One was released in 2003, two years after Poses, as the first half of a two-album arc. Want Two would hit stores a year later, but I’ll save that for another post. The two albums don’t have many specific connections apart from their cover art.

While it might hint at some grand concept, Want One is essentially nothing more or less than a collection of 14 excellent songs. Songs both amusing and poignant, both simple and complex. As a document of what this singer-songwriter is capable of, this album really can’t be beat.

It’s funny that I can remember exactly when I first heard each of the songs I’ve highlighted so far this week. In the case of ‘Go or Go Ahead,’ it was in a car wash. Even though it takes me a few listens to really hear a song rather than learn it, even that first time I thought to myself, “This is the shit.”

The song is about Wainwright’s rebound from an addiction to crystal meth, a topic that often creeps into his lyrics. Here he uses mythological language — invoking Medusa and Mars — to capture the drama of the situation.

I adore the quiet early verses, so beautifully melodic and sung so well… particularly this line in the second verse: “But the brightest of the planets is Mars.” That’s Mars, the God of War, and not the planet that’s actually brightest — Venus, the Goddess of Love. To drive home the point, he asks “What has happened to love?”

And then there’s that crescendo into the soaring first chorus… “I’ll never know what you have shown to other eyes… go, or go ahead and surprise me.” I love songs that start small and go big, and this one does that in spades.

If I were recruiting new friends and using pop culture appreciation as my criteria, this would be a song that new applicants would have to love to make the cut. You don’t like Lost, the Coen Brothers and Rufus Wainwright? Sorry, sucker… back of the line!

Thank you for this bitter knowledge
Guardian angels who left me stranded
It was worth it
Feeling abandoned makes one hardened
But what has happened to love?

You got me writing lyrics on postcards
Then in the evening looking at the stars
But the brightest of the planets is Mars
What has happened to love?

So I will opt for the big white limo
Vanity fairgrounds and rebel angels
You can’t be trusted with feathers so hollow
Your heaven’s inventions, steel-eyed vampires of love

You see over me, I’ll never know
What you have shown to other eyes
Go or go ahead and surprise me
Say you’ve led the way to a mirage
Go or go ahead and just try me

Nowhere’s now here smelling of junipers
Fell off the hay bales, I’m over the rainbow
But oh Medusa, kiss me and crucify
This unholy notion of the mythic powers of love

Look in her eyes, look in her eyes
Forget about the ones that are crying
Look in her eyes, look in her eyes
Forget about the ones that are crying

Go or go ahead and surprise me
Go or go ahead and just try me
What has happened to love?

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #300: ‘Go or Go Ahead’ – Rufus Wainwright

  1. Dana says:

    A fine song indeed. And the whiny quality of his voice is sufficiently in check here to appreciate the song:)

    Much like a fine serious movie like Schindler’s List, however, I don’t see myself having a desire to repeatedly hear this song, which would potentially keep it from becoming a “favorite” in that sense.

  2. Clay says:

    But it’s a lot easier to hear a 5-minute song than to watch a 3 1/2-hour movie. I like that a song can give you an emotional experience — high or low — in such a short time period.

  3. Dana says:

    True, but it just doesn’t strike me as a song I would crave to hear repeatedly.

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