Song of the Day #438: ‘Innocent One’ – Michael Penn

marchNearly 20 years ago, back when I received new music from my sister and brother-in-law rather than the other way around, I was gifted two CDs as a high school graduation present. One was Elvis Costello’s King of America. The other was Michael Penn’s March.

The Costello album triggered an appreciation bordering on obsession that continues to this day. In light of that, it’s easy to dismiss the Michael Penn album as the less important or meaningful gift. But on the contrary, it too sparked an ongoing admiration for one of music’s most underrated artists.

I wonder if I would be less of a Michael Penn fan had I not received the album as a gift along with the Costello CD, at a time when I was looking to dive deeper into all kinds of music. Was it a case of good timing as much as anything else? Or would I have found my way to Penn, or him to me, some other way?

At any rate, I’m dedicating this week to Michael Penn and the five albums he’s released over those 20 years.

First up is March, his best-known album and a contender for his finest as well. It contains the only real hit of his career, the effortlessly catchy ‘No Myth’ (probably better known as the “Romeo in black jeans song”). What a shame that he hit it pretty big with his first-ever single and never tasted commercial fame again. I guess it beats complete obscurity.

March is split about evenly between up-tempo pop songs and ballads, and every one is wonderful. ‘Innocent One’ is among my favorites, a heartbreak song from the perspective of a man who doesn’t feel he’s been assigned enough blame for the breakup. At least that’s what I think it’s about. Penn is a clever lyricist and sometimes a hard one to decipher. What’s your take?

Sweet Miranda brings me the wine
We have had our fill of almost everything
Turning thistledown laughter
I would take her blue cue too late
I would say the words, almost anything
Just to catch what she’s after

But you don’t believe that I’m
A partner in this game
How can you believe that I’m the innocent one?

When the bow broke in pieces we fell
We would scream and shout almost anything
But the point is we fell, dear
There will be no more wishlessness
There may be some doubt
No new day without
Best that we say farewell here

But you don’t believe that I’m
A party to the pain
How can you believe that I’m the innocent one?

I saw this girl crying by the wheel of her car
She had balloons in the back seat
The front door ajar
She never moved so I just whispered goodbye
She reminded me of you when you cry
And I didn’t mean to make you cry

Sweet Miranda brings me the wine
We have had our fill of almost everything
Turning thistledown laughter
I would take her blue cue too late
I would say the words, almost anything
Just to catch what she’s after

But you don’t believe that I’m
A partner in this game
How can you believe that I’m the innocent one?

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #438: ‘Innocent One’ – Michael Penn

  1. Amy says:

    1. Awwwww
    2. Are you going to your high school reunion?! It must be coming up….
    3. That seems like a pretty skimpy gift in retrospect 😉
    4. Boy, am I depressed. Has it been 20 years since I knew about something worth listening to in music that you didn’t? I guess Jason Castro and Adam Lambert don’t count? 🙂

    As for your interpretation of the song, it makes sense. There was a funny line in the first episode of Modern Family, where the wife and mother says that if the daughter never winds up naked on some beach she will have done her job. At which point, her husband interrupts with “our job.” And she says, “Right. I will have done our job.” I’m still laughing. Perhaps Penn’s speaker is getting neither the credit for the actual relationship (in the first two stanza) or the demise of it (the rest of the song). It’s almost as if he’s a bystander, a feeling which is made blatant when he stands by – doing nothing – while the balloon girl cries.

    Or it’s about puppies.

    Either way, I’m looking forward to Michael Penn week, and I intend to get you some new music to take to your high school reunion.

  2. Clay says:

    I’d hardly call the gift of Elvis Costello skimpy! (and with a side of Michael Penn thrown in…)

    Next year will be my 20 year reunion. I have next to no desire to attend. I’ve gotten in touch with most of my old friends through Facebook and found that I haven’t been missing much. The few people I’d like to see again probably won’t attend because they’re living overseas (or in Utah). But I do like an excuse to visit D.C., so we’ll see.

  3. Dana says:

    I think Amy forgets that we lived a far more modest life 20 years ago:)

    Anyway, this is a truly great album. And I regret not keeping up with Penn as you have, as it sounds as though he continued to do fine work after this. I suspect you would have found him another way, mostly through his wife, Aimie Mann.

    As for today’s SOTD, I never really analyzed the lyrics, but, yeah…I’ll go with your interpretation:)

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