[ download ]
Somewhere in the great American Midwest, there’s a fortyish-year-old woman with a well-worn and (I hope) cherished t-shirt from Wilco’s first ever gig. I know she has it because I was the one who gave it to her as a token of esteem/pathetic attempt at romantic bribery, and she was not the sort who would ever throw such a thing away. She worked at the only hip record store in the town I lived in at the time and her boss was not letting her off work the night that now-historic show was happening in the nearby big city. To ease her disappointment I promised to bring her back said t-shirt, which resulted in a hug I can still feel 17 years later.
Oh, but she was a lovely thing – skin like porcelain, pale but mischievous blue eyes, raven-black hair and curvy as the Ledo Road. Whip-smart and feisty, she was – she once threatened to kick my ass for buying a used copy of Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker that she’d meant to set aside for herself – but also sweet and good humored, spending most nights at the store helping her somewhat dim teenaged co-worker with his homework. In her spare time she was a sculptress, taught Sunday Schoo,l and managed (as well as anyone could) the town’s premiere punk band. Had the universe ever given me free reign to design my dream girl, I’d most likely have just pointed the cosmos in her direction and said “No need to bother. There she is.”
Attempts at asking her out were gently shunted aside but never turned down outright. Even at the time I realized she was probably just being nice, but she always seemed careful to not crush my hope entirely. No, that didn’t occur until the day I went to the record store to discover that it had unexpectedly closed overnight, abruptly ending my access to this perfect woman. I didn’t have her phone number (I’d not expected to so suddenly need it), she never seemed to show up at the few cool shows that came through town, and my ad in the personals (which in those days everyone in town read, including her) went unanswered. She was gone from my life forever.
The trigger for this sad reminiscence is “Love Me More,” a track by New Jersey’s Roadside Graves. Its refrain of “couldn’t you have loved me more?” is surely a universal lament for the entire human race. Ah, why didn’t that enchanting creature at the record store love me more? We all have someone we would ask that question of or – probably even more heartbreakingly – ask it of us.
Vocalist John begins his lovelorn list of disappointments at the moment of his own birth, then continues through romantic disappointments to the sad realization that his father was living out of his car because he’d never extended him the invitation to live with him. He recounts this plaintive list over a gentle alt-country backing, which swells into an improbably rousing chorus when the rest of the band joins him in asking that titular question, “couldn’t you have loved me more?”
“Love Me More” is a rare beast that pulls off a tricky alchemy – it’s a downer of a topic for a song, yet it ends up feeling more like a stirring call to action than a stroll through a life of misery. Listening to it reminds you of all the people you wish had loved you and of all the people who you know you should have loved. But the song is more wistful than sad. It reminds the listener of past disappointments, but ultimately makes that listener vow to love more and strive to be more worthy of being loved. That’s not a bad bit of work for a three-minute pop song.