Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trouble Me

Trouble Me (from the 10,000 Maniacs albums Blind Man's Zoo and Unplugged)


Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.
Trouble me on the days when you feel spent.
Why let your shoulders bend underneath this burden when my back is sturdy and strong?
Trouble me.

Speak to me, don't mislead me, the calm I feel means a storm is swelling;
There's no telling where it starts or how it ends.
Speak to me, why are you building this thick brick wall to defend me when your silence is my greatest fear?
Why let your shoulders bend underneath this burden when my back is sturdy and strong?
Speak to me.

Let me have a look inside these eyes while I'm learning.
Please don't hide them just because of tears.
Let me send you off to sleep with a "There, there, now stop your turning and tossing."
Let me know where the hurt is and how to heal.

Spare me? Don't spare me anything troubling.

Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.
Speak to me and let our words build a shelter from the storm.
Lastly, let me know what I can mend.
There's more, honestly, than my sweet friend, you can see.
Trust is what I'm offering if you trouble me.

If you read any article written by any journalist about Natalie Merchant's musical career, you will inevitably read a line that sounds something like this: "Merchant is known for writing songs about serious topics such as child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, poverty and war." There is certainly no disputing that fact, but there is another topic that Natalie writes about that never seems to be mentioned in these inventories: comfort.

I love the songs Natalie has written about child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, poverty and war. Obviously I'm far from alone in that feeling. And I suppose, indirectly perhaps, that those songs do serve to comfort people affected by those problems. When a struggling single mother hears the song "Dust Bowl" then perhaps she feels less alone, if only for a moment.

But there is a brand of songs that Natalie writes that are broader in scope. They are songs that seem to be written expressly for the purpose of bringing comfort to anyone who needs it. Which is to say, everyone. Songs like "Life Is Sweet" and "Break Your Heart," among many others, fall into this category. I would make the argument that "Trouble Me" is the first song of this brand in Natalie's career.

There are so many things I love about the lyrics to this song. The words are simple, straightforward and unadorned. I feel like the song serves two purposes, in a way. When you listen to the song, you can feel like the words are being said to you; a reminder that there are people in the world, people in your life, who care about what you're feeling and whose backs are indeed sturdy and strong enough to help you shoulder your burdens.

On the other hand, this song helps us fill the need we all have to express our offer of comfort to the people we love. I don't know about you, but I know I sometimes struggle to put into words my desire to be there for someone I love. No matter what the motivation in your heart is, after awhile phrases like "I'm here for you" and the like just sound like hollow platitudes, devoid of any real meaning. While the words to "Trouble Me" are simple, they are profound. A friend once gave me a framed photo of the two of us as a gift. On the back of the photo the lyrics to "Trouble Me" were written. I was deeply touched (and for the record, that was well before I was a serious Natalie listener/nerd.)

One thing, though, that I always wonder about with regard to this song: Why does she never play it live anymore? I've seen her in concert 4 times and she's never played it. That's not all that astonishing given the fact that it's only 4 concerts out of the hundreds she's performed since splitting from the Maniacs, but I've read tons of reviews of Natalie's shows and not once has anyone ever mentioned her playing this song. It leads to me wonder, Does she not like this song anymore? It's difficult for me to fathom such a thing. How could she possibly feel that way? I reject this idea and instead choose to create my own mythology. It goes something like this: The song is just too personal, it stirs up too much emotion for her to perform it live. If she even attempts it, she's swept away in a river of her own tears, like Alice in Wonderland.

Wow. That was terrible mythology.

Today, I will let Natalie have the last word about this lovely song:

"I think Trouble Me is the most direct (song on Blind Man's Zoo.) And I don't want people to believe it's a song that only concerns young lovers. I think that love shouldn't be so exclusive. It shouldn't be hoarded."*

*Melody Maker - May 1989


  1. I love this song. I wonder if she doesn't play it anymore just because it is an old 10km song. She really doesn't play many 10km songs, with a few exceptions (These are Days, Key Jack Kerouac).

    I love it, though, and wish she would play it. One of my favorite 10km songs.

  2. This being in my small scope of Maniacs songs i actually know, it is a beautiful song. But i would like to say, she is riding way to fast with senior citizen on the back of her bicycle with no head protection. ( Sorry i couldn't help myself)