Song of the Day #1,523: ‘February’ – Dar Williams

Initially I wasn’t sure if I should include Dar Williams in the set of artists I’m examing for the musical genome project. I own most but not all of her albums, and I know only a couple of them by heart. She has released her share of generic Lilith Fair soft rock snoozers.

But she has also written and recorded some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. ‘When I Was a Boy,’ for example, is a song I would list among my very favorites, not just for its musical and lyrical qualities but because it speaks to me on a deep emotional level. She can do that, and has, more than a few times.

Anybody who can speak to me on that level deserves to be considered here, though you could make the argument that Williams is just a quality songwriter who transcends labels, and the fact that her music doesn’t always work for me probably backs that up.

So where does Williams fit into my genome? I’d say she has one leg in the ‘Folk Rock Derivatives’ category and another in ‘Melancholy.’ Stylistically, she is squarely in folk rock territory, and her finest work is almost always on the sad, contemplative side.

Today’s SOTD is a fine example. ‘February’ uses winter as a metaphor for a suffering relationship. Recently I read a comment that suggested the song was about a couple dealing with Alzheimer’s and that really clicked for me. What do you think?

I threw your keys in the water, I looked back,
They’d frozen halfway down in the ice.
They froze up so quickly, the keys and their owners,
Even after the anger, it all turned silent, and
The everyday turned solitary,
So we came to February.

First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that we’d planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February?

You know I think Christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning; we gave presents without cards,
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And we’d drop to sleep exhausted,
Then we’d wake up, and its snowing.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus,”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower,”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”
You said, “I still love you.”

The leaves were turning as we drove to the hardware store,
My new lover made me keys to the house,
And when we got home, we just started chopping wood,
Because you never know how next year will be,
And we’ll gather all our arms can carry,
I have lost to February.

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,523: ‘February’ – Dar Williams

  1. Dana says:

    Well if it is about Alzheimer’s, she has definitely earned her spot in melancholy!

  2. pegclifton says:

    When I read the lyrics with Alzheimer’s on my mind, it really felt chilling because it felt like she was losing the battle to that disease; very sad indeed.

  3. Amy says:

    I wasn’t getting the Alzheimer’s connection until the next to the last verse, when I do see that possibility. I do love her voice, though the only song I know well by her is “When I Was a Boy,” which is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Don’t think it warrants a spot in this crazy genome project, but it’s an amazing song just the same! 🙂

    I’m still not sure why a “new lover” would be involved (unless the lover is new because she no longer remembers him?!), so I’m not sure I’m yet convinced; still, it’s an interesting interpretation.

  4. Tom says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite songs – it may be the best-constructed song I’ve ever heard.

    I’m intrigued by the Alzheimer’s idea, but I’m not convinced. The “freezing and forgetting,” and the forgetting of what flowers even are, struck me initially, and still strikes me, as an achingly sad metaphor for the slow death of the love between the two, not the literal forgetting of what flowers are.

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