Carly Simon: Jesse

Have you ever rediscovered a pop song you’d long forgotten about? A song you know you’ve heard, but so much time has passed you can’t even remember what it sounds like? And then you hear it again for the first time in many a year and you are knocked flat on your ass?

That happened to me with the near-top-10 hit of Carly Simon’s from way back in 1980, Jesse. Carly starts with the words “Mama, say a prayer for me” hoping she’ll have the strength to stay away from an ex-lover, Jesse, who broke her heart and has now come back to town.

The first run through the chorus finds Simon defiant:

I won’t cut fresh flowers for you
No, Jesse
And I won’t make the wine cold for you
No, Jesse
I won’t change the sheets for you
I won’t put on cologne
I won’t sit by the phone for you

But trouble is afoot. In the following verse she begs a friend to remind her of all the ways Jesse laid her low. By the final chorus, she’s given in. The simple change of a single word changes the meaning completely.

I’ll always cut fresh flowers for you
I’ll always make the wine cold for you

And put on cologne
And sit by the phone for you
Oh, yeah

The final verse is devastating:

Let’s open the wine
And drink to the heart
Which has a will of its own
My friends
(My friends)
Let’s comfort them
They’re feeling bad
They think I’ve sunk so low

My goodness. I listened to this song at least six times in a row today. I don’t know how I missed it all these years. It is a work of pure genius.


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