These days

Sometime last month I wrote here about Nico. Well, actually, I wrote about a play about Nico. Seeing that play got me wandering around on YouTube to hear the real thing.

Since then, I have no idea how many times I’ve clicked on Nico’s version of Jackson Browne’s song These Days. I keep coming back to it, and I never tire of giving it yet another listen. Her performance has a strange and powerful grip on me.

Which is really weird, because she sings off-key, with a very heavy accent, in a not very good tone, and with absolutely no vibrato or vocal technique at all, in the usual sense of the word.

But none of that seems to matter. This haunting rendition, backed by Browne himself on guitar, seems to get to the very heart of the song, reaching a place entirely beyond music in the conventional sense.

This performance of this song seems to me a precise evocation of a particular feeling that we all have, but that we almost never admit to. The feeling that life, love and connection, control over our own destiny, have all somehow become unmoored, and that we are adrift.

But also that we continue to have that one thing — the thing nobody else can ever completely understand — our own inner identity, however screwed up that may be. And that this sense of self will somehow see us through.

Somehow, miraculously, Jackson Browne had the insight to write this song when he was just sixteen years old. And in the hands of Nico, with her strange and relentless way of asserting a pure force of identity, it becomes a masterpiece.

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