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“Golden,” My Morning Jacket

“Golden,” the third cut on My Morning Jacket’s third album, puts Jim James in the company of great metaphysical poets like John Donne, and raises questions that it doesn’t care to explicitly answer.

James is no stranger to the great unknown. He took on Sweet Emma Barrett’s ghost at Preservation Jazz Hall in New Orleans and once told an audience in Louisville that the ghost of his youth was simultaneously occupying every space he had ever been in his hometown.

“Golden” has all the touchstones of the Jim James school of songwriting. There is a pure love song tucked between the cracks, but “Golden” is also a sort of Yim Yamesian universal love song – a song about the meaning and mysteries of life.

The song opens with one of James’ most beautiful images: “Watchin’ a stretch of road, miles of light explode.” But James takes that visual nugget and opens it up into the abstract in the next line: “Driftin’ off a thing I’d never done before.” Is James here referring to working on a lyrical idea of something he’s imagining rather than having experienced in real life? Or is the exploding light “drifting off” of something in a visual way that is unknowable to James? It’s a completely abstract – and totally captivating – line.

The first verse then goes on to hazily recreate the feel of a My Morning Jacket show. One thing James is a master of is art imitating life – not just in the text, but in the whole emotional being of a song. You don’t just hear the line “Watchin’ the crowd roll in” and think about arriving at a concert. The sounds, words, and mood all literally put you in that space. It’s a synesthetic swimming pool of memory.

As is often the case with Jim James’ lyrics, abstract ideas follow concrete images. “Golden”‘s first chorus begins as a simple set of thoughts about time spent drinking and talking in bars, but, in the end, James has left us with a juxtaposition of the body and mind’s roles in the experience. The experience of being in a bar, which may have the power to “thrill” you, can never compare with the “chilling” effect of what the mind experiences from the same thing. Later in the song, when James wonders “What does it mean to feel?,” he’s probably getting at the same thing.

In its last verse, “Golden” also reveals itself as a song about relationships that are changing over time. It seems to be a moment where James addresses his oncoming rock stardom and a desire to hold onto a part of life that may be threatened. In the song’s final line, James returns to a Donnian image – “And on heaven’s golden shore we’ll lay our heads” – and seems completely at peace knowing that life is full of unanswerable mysteries.

“Golden”

Watchin’ a stretch of road, miles of light explode
Driftin’ off a thing I’d never done before
Watchin’ a crowd roll in
Out go the lights, it begins
A feelin’ in my bones, I never felt before

People always told me
That bars are dark and lonely
And talk is often cheap and filled with air.
Sure, sometimes they thrill me
But nothing could ever chill me
Like the way they make the time just disappear.

Feelin’ you’re here again
Hot on my skin again
Feelin’ good a thing, I’d never known before.
What does it mean to feel?
Millions of dreams come real
A feelin’ in my soul, I’d never felt before

And you always told me
No matter how long it holds me
If it falls apart
Or makes us millionaires
You’ll be right here forever
Go through this thing together
And on heaven’s golden shore we’ll lay our heads

Written by Jim James

Watchin’ a stretch of road, miles of light explode

Driftin’ off a thing I’d never done before

Watchin’ a crowd roll in

Out go the lights, it begins

A feelin’ in my bones, I never felt before

People always told me

That bars are dark and lonely

And talk is often cheap and filled with air.

Sure, sometimes they thrill me

But nothing could ever chill me

Like the way they make the time just disappear.

Feelin’ you’re here again

Hot on my skin again

Feelin’ good a thing, I’d never known before.

What does it mean to feel?

Millions of dreams come real

A feelin’ in my soul, I’d never felt before

And you always told me

No matter how long it holds me

If it falls apart

Or makes us millionaires

You’ll be right here forever

Go through this thing together

And on heaven’s golden shore we’ll lay our heads

"Golden" puts Jim James in the company of great metaphysical poets like John Donne.

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