Joanna Newsom - In California
I was born in Santa Rosa, California, about an hour and a half north of San Francisco. My dad had moved there from New Jersey to start a commune in the 70’s. He bought 140 acres of land with his friends for $40,000 dollars. I lived in the house he built up on a small mountain until I was five. The view out our living room window was nothing but rolling hills of redwoods that lead to the ocean. I would look down into the valleys filled with seas of fog in the mornings, and we watched the sun set over them at night.
Joanna Newsom grew up in Nevada City, a small, quaint town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. It’s beautiful up there, as it was where I grew up, as everyone was always telling me, and as I always knew, even when I wanted nothing more than to escape to somewhere more exciting, where more was happening, where I could do something “important.”
“But when you come and see me in California/you cross the border of my heart”
But I’m always drawn back. When I met friends I cared about at college in Boston I convinced them to come home with me. It was important to me that they see where I was from. When I am with someone romantically for long enough I will want the same thing. California is an inextricable part of who I am, no matter how far I get from the person I was when I lived there.
This is my favorite song on Have One On Me, and the song that for me first cracked open this difficult to process album. Listening to it, how it shifts from slow and quiet to intense and almost panicked and back to calm over the course of the song, the timbre of her voice, I can almost see the light at home changing over the course of an evening from dusk to dark, and how that changes your perception of what’s around you. Her line “where the dark falls so fast it seems like some kind of mistake,” seems like a description of somewhere north – sunsets in California, even in winter, feel like a story with a plot slow and deliberate.
“To spend my life in spitting distance of the love that I have known/I must stay here in an endless eveningtide”
But this song isn’t about the peace of home: like much of Newsom’s work, it’s about the pain and fear of breaking away from that tranquility to let new people and experiences inside. It’s the interplay of light and dark, literal and metaphorical. It’s the terror of letting new love replace heartbreak, of accepting our wounds and moving on. This is part of growing up: leaving where you’re from and returning to find it’s not the same, knowing it will never be the same again; and learning to let that be ok.
“And I am no longer afraid of anything, save the life that here awaits”