I’ve listened to the same song over and over and over again for the past three days. By the end of Tuesday I’d listened to “When Your Mind’s Made Up” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová 186 times. I did this as a kind of self-appointed dare, in a vain effort to weasel my way into the social life of Word Made Flesh. I don’t live anywhere near anyone from Word Made Flesh, and yet when I heard of this in-house contest they were running, I couldn’t help but take part. There’s no way I can win, and I’m probably irritating my friends at WMF to no end simply by participating, but my mind’s made up, and as the song says, “there’s no point trying to change it . . . there’s no point even talking.”
I selected this song from the soundtrack to the film Once because I figured I could listen to it repeatedly without driving myself crazy. I could have selected the artists’ equally poignant and compelling “Falling Slowly,” which won an Oscar over the weekend, but I didn’t think that song would bear as frequent repeating as this one—not because it’s not a brilliant song but because it doesn’t have the kind of catch-and-release hopeful anxiety inherent to it that flows through “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” Both songs are beautiful, but “When Your Mind’s Made Up” can go the distance.
I often dwell on songs when I first encounter them. When I was a kid I would hole up in my room and listen to Queen’s “Somebody to Love” over and over and over again, an angst-inspired self-imposed exile into solitariness, I suppose. What can I tell you? I was emo. I’m still reasonably so, actually, which is why I listened over and over and over again to the Finn Brothers’ “Gentle Hum,” Rachael Davis's “Better Than Me,” and any number of other sad songs. They say so much, you know.
You notice different things when you listen to a song over and over and over again. Watching the film Once, you’re most aware of Glen Hansard’s vocals and how Markéta Irglová colors the song with her piano and vocal harmonies. You notice the visuals—the studio producer who suddenly realizes that these musicians are not just laying down self-indulgent noise but making riveting music, the electricity between musicians who are learning the song as they go and relying on instinct and the energy of one another to make the first take the best take. Once is a movie for melancholy romantics and nostalgic musicians; the air in the film is filled with the potential for vulnerable people making beautiful music together, both figuratively and literally.
But when you listen to the song over and over and over again, you gain a new respect for the whole thing: the drummer who lays down a riveting and reliable beat to a complicated rhythm; the Solomonic bass player who opts for simplicity rather than showmanship and accomplishes both; the raw tension that only an acoustic guitar can provide and the drama that a piano adds.
The song starts small, with a wounded voice and modest guitar, builds to a nearly impossible desperation and then suddenly collapses into the same promise with which it opened: “So if you ever want something, and you call, then I’ll come running.” Despite its title, “When Your Mind’s Made Up” is an earnest appeal to a seemingly intransigent lost love to reconsider. Consequently, it accomplishes the paradox of audacity and resignation, the sarcasm born of hurt and good humor, that seems to be the sole domain of the Irish. I love that stuff, which is why despite my last name being Zimmerman, I defiantly count myself Irish whenever asked.
Man, I love this song. I could listen to it over and over and over again.
What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan My rating: 3 of 5 stars My job i...
When Richard Nixon set off on his quest to become President of the United States in 1968, he campaigned on a vision of "law and order.&...