M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel: When I Get To The Border
I’m a huge Richard Thompson fan, but I was surprisingly not excited about this theme. Maybe it is because I haven’t found a Thompson cover that I love as much as the original. Which is not to say that there aren’t many, many good ones. I found an article in which Thompson listed his 5 favorite covers of his songs, and he chose Bonnie Raitt’s cover of “Dimming of the Day” as his favorite—and it is good. Number 3 was Dinosaur, Jr.’s cover of “I Misunderstood,” which is very different from the original, and I almost wrote about that.
Instead, I picked this one, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s version of “When I Get To The Border.” Deschanel was starring in a now forgotten movie called The Go-Getter, and Ward was doing the music. The director suggested that they sing a duet for the end credits, and they decided to do this cover. Ward and Deschanel apparently enjoyed themselves so much that they formed She & Him, released two albums and a Christmas album, and have toured together. I don’t think this song is commercially available, so the link above is to the DVD of the movie.
Apparently, Zooey Deschanel is a very divisive figure. Google her name, and you find as many sites hating her as you do fan sites. I’m a fan. I loved her in “Elf” and “(500) Days of Summer,” and I really enjoy her sitcom, “New Girl.” I understand those who find her cutesy and affected, but I’m charmed.
Her singing isn’t amazing, but it is similarly charming, and I like her voice and style more than a lot of artists that get more respect. And Ward does a pretty good job, too. So, their version of the song is enjoyable. But let’s be fair—Ward is no Richard Thompson, and Deschanel is no Linda Thompson. And the arrangement and instrumentation isn’t as interesting as the original, and the guitar playing isn’t as exciting, despite the fact that Nels Cline, the innovative guitarist from Wilco (and more experimental solo/group recordings) is credited on the track. It is, in the end, a good cover, not a great cover, of a great, generally unappreciated song.
Of course, great, unappreciated songs are pretty much all that Richard Thompson writes. This one, from 1974, is the first song on the first album credited to Richard and Linda Thompson, “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight.” It is an incredible album, and the song discusses a pretty bleak life, with hope existing at the border, which, I think, but am not sure, is the edge of heaven. When the narrator gets there he finds a “dusty road that smells so sweet/ Paved with gold beneath my feet” and states, “I’ll be dancing down the street.” My interpretation fits with this quote from Thompson--"If you don't believe in anything beyond the solidity of this world, then the world is a terrible place...There's no victory in this world in the end; all you can do is get out of it." (Rolling Stone -- April 5, 1979). Personally, I don’t agree with this philosophy, but I also don’t think that you need to agree with a song to like it.