His songs were always important to him.
The irony and juxtaposition of life experience imbedded in this corpus of brutally honest lyric is epitomized in the title of the first piece: “How to Lie.” In this song, Jeff shows us his warm and vulnerable side, which was open to enchantment, but, when betrayed, quickly transforms into something very cold and callous as his “caring for you is done.” He wastes no time showing us how quickly his native innocence is corrupted by another, against whom he squarely and mercilessly pegs the blame. Who is this other? To say it is just a woman would be too simple. It is the world.
Not unlike the fall from grace described in Genesis – of which Jeff would be well aware, given his Jewish upbringing – through these lyrics we see this veritable Adam fall quickly from the enchantment of Eden into the tangled forest of life, where, fortunately, when one tree falls, another sprouts up. This is shown through the recurring reference to the death of Jeff’s father, who when this great Oak fell, we see his maternal grandfather step in and assume the mantle of lead-man in his life, and, in a touching and very powerful piece, gives the young Jeff his wedding ring while on his death bed. This surprises the young man greatly, which suggests he had previously been questioning his self-worth and position within the world.
Jeff writes about his mother, whom he describes as an unwitting angel standing before him, there to save him during his many falls from grace as he goes from boy to man. His sister also plays a prominent role in his lyrics, as he describes remembrances of her protecting him from outside threats. This reverent triad of family – mother, sister, and brother – is a recurring theme throughout his work, and one can imagine him playing these songs to them in the living room as they choke up with tears.
Beyond the sound moorings of his strong family, things get a bit angry and mixed up, as Jeff’s enchantment is dashed by a series startling realizations – most seeming to involve the trials and tribulations of young man struggling with the opposite sex and the confusion, mistakes and betrayals that come along with unpracticed love relationships. In the end, however, it seems that the experiences expressed in the twisted love song genre all lead up to the woman about whom he sings in Like a Dream. As he found peace after the hurt on his family, he finds love after the chaos of exploring these dangerous waters.
These pieces are very relatable, in that they present an unadulterated movie reel of one man’s human experience, which invariably cannot be very different from another’s – if the author is honest. While egocentric in the sense that it is about him and his experience, showing little empathy for the outside world, it is appealing because it is not in any way pretentious, in that it does it seek to elevate him above the rest of the world. Along with his risings, we see his stumbling, and, as such, he is singing as much about us as he is about himself.
At times an orphan running; at others a son with a father who is waiting for him to run home. At times lost; at times found. Sometimes angry, sometimes sad, and sometimes filled with joy. Sometimes in the right, sometimes in the wrong. Sometimes good; sometimes bad. Sometimes wise; other times the fool. This is us. We are complicated prisms, like Hamlets all of us struggling over the question of whether to kill the ghost of the murderer of the King, the father – wrestling within ourselves over what the correct answer is to a question when the answers are diametrically opposed and have harsh ramifications on our existence, while the audience screams “fool, don’t you see.” But we do see, in our own way, and in our own time, and we all find our way home. This work shows illustratively one man’s path, which many of us have or will trod.
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