I Want You Back

For these two spirits, it could be any year. They were the loves of some other life.

But It was always, every year, in the sticky spattered rainy heat of late August that they’d both come back and take their places diagonally across on the intersection of Belmont and Sheffield streets in Chicago. Each of them sitting slumped against wet concrete storefronts. Street people no one ever really sees. So it was questionable. Were they really there or not? Neither of them made a sound.

Neither paid the other any mind.

If just for a moment you did see them, and you listened very hard beneath the rumbling elevated train and the tire slick pavement, you’d hear a raspy cigarette toned singer upstairs at a bar where there was always the music of being inside on a rainy night. In that bar, called The Quiet Knight, a cigarette smoke singer pleaded to his piano that I hope that I don’t fall in love with you.

And that plea would bring thunder.

Every year, that plea would bring thunder. Wild, lightning splitting skies and apocalyptic winds. Inside that bar there was the glowing orange warmth of the soul that only comes alive in the deepest, crazy corner of the city. And as the rains would beat down harder on those two solitary souls outside, neither of them acknowledging the other, cartoon thought bubbles floating above their fading forms were empty. As if even the doubt that gives faith its shape and form had disappeared and there was just that empty intersection at Belmont and Sheffield in the rain.

But then, and this happened, every year, as the raspy toned voice sang that it was closing time, and the rain calmed to a steady cleansing river of the city night, the two faint forms on the sidewalk would start fading to a gentle mist and in their place, there on the rain soaked sidewalk, there between the cracks in the concrete, diagonally across the intersection, two tiny new green shoots and the most miniscule of the strangest, strongest flowers. Purple and yellow and totally out of place as if some unhearable voice had asked a question. Every year the same question, can old songs be made new?

Photo Credit Patti Jacko

2 Responses to “I Want You Back”

  1. Paulhaider74 Says:

    Roger, the best album by Tom Waits is still his debut album in my opinion; the one-two punch of “Ol’ 55” into “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love” is a classic combination. You might remember that Jackson Browne had forgotten the name of the Quiet Knight on stage at Ravinia in June of 2013 until the the smart-ass sitting next to you reminded him of it with a loud shout in the dark (the antithesis of a quiet night?). Graham Parker & the Rumour recorded a killer version of “I Want You Back” for a B-side in 1979, and I listened to it quite often in the months after Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.

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