Song of the Day #584: ‘Women and Men’ – Josh Rouse

In 2002, with the release of his third full-length album, Under Cold Blue Stars, Josh Rouse the caterpillar became Josh Rouse the butterfly. While his first two albums established him as a solid pop-rock songwriter, they didn’t set him apart from the pack. Under Cold Blue Stars very much did.

This is a concept album loosely based on the lives of Rouse’s parents, or as he puts it in the production notes, “a Midwestern couple in the 1950s.” The songs don’t exactly tell a linear story but they touch on different moments in a relationship, from the giddy lovesick beginning through trials of infidelity and emotional and physical distance through to a comfortable, if not outright happy, finish.

While listening to songs to prepare for this theme week it hit me quite suddenly why Josh Rouse is one of my favorite artists. And it was a remarkably obvious thing once I thought about it.

He writes sad songs. Not all the time — he certainly has his share of happy ones — but often enough and well enough that he can be called an expert at it. And if there’s one thing I love — in music, TV, movies, you name it — it’s melancholy. That’s my biggest weakness, the thread that runs through all of my favorite things. And Rouse is a fine practitioner of the art of sadness.

Take this song, ‘Women and Men,’ which shows up near the close of Under Cold Blue Stars. It’s written from the perspective of a husband and father who spends much of his time on the road. He misses his family and he knows what it means that he’s missing from their lives. In the poignant chorus, he achingly accepts that “I won’t be there to help you asleep when you get scared.”

The current will rise much faster
Makes it harder to find what I’m after
The water’s up, the water’s down and I can’t swim
When I am lost and you are not then no one wins

Our babies have known no father
Makes it harder to call
I don’t bother
Bottle up, bottle down is how I live
The money’s gone
Just one more song before I turn in

But you won’t see me because
I won’t be there to help you asleep when you get scared
It’s the absence, you’re afraid
And the night it approaches
But I’m still a state away
Yeah, it’s the absence, you’re afraid

I can’t erase what the past is
It’s time to face circumstances
The sun comes up, the sun goes down
And I begin
The days grow long as I trek on
And I hate knowing

That you won’t see me because
I won’t be there to help you asleep when you get scared
It’s the absence, you’re afraid
And the night it approaches
But I’m still a state away
Yeah, it’s the absence, you’re afraid of a fight
We’re surviving but it’s still from day to day

It’s nice to come home for a weekend
The children have grown, how I’ve missed them
As I pull up and you walk out
We smile again
The grass needs cut
Cuddled up, just woman and man

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #584: ‘Women and Men’ – Josh Rouse

  1. Dana says:

    Perhaps your love of the melancholy explains the passion for artists like Rufus, Elliot Smith, and Fiona, but you obviously have passion for a number of artists who do not do the melancholy so much like Costello as one obvious example.

    I’m not sure I have any love for melancholy. In fact, I probably skew away from songs that wallow too deeply. But what I like about someone like Rouse is that, while the subject matter may contain sad themes, the presentation remains more uplifting–it’s about his voice, the instrumentation, the production, the song structure–all of which balance the angst of the lyrics. In striking that balance, Rouse places himself amongst some of the greater artists who have managed to explore melancholy themes within the framework of lighter sounding music–from Van Morrison and Cat Stevens to Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few. .

  2. peg says:

    I also have a love for melancholy, one of my favorite Sinatra albums is Watertown, now that one can put a blister on your heart! These lyrics are touching, esp the last lines.

  3. Amy says:

    I’m not sure whether I’m drawn to or repelled by melancholy songs. I tend to think it completely depends upon the song, though I certainly don’t think I’m drawn to songs because they have a melanchoy quality. I like this one well enough.

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