Thursday, January 6, 2011

Noah's Dove / If You Intend

Noah's Dove (from the 10,000 Maniacs albums Our Time In Eden and Unplugged)

You win a prize for that
for telling lies like that
so well that I believed it
I never felt cheated

You were the chosen one
the pure eyes of Noah's dove
choir boys and angels
stole your lips and your halo

In your reckless mind
you act as if you've got more lives
In your reckless eyes
you only have time and your love of danger
to it you're no stranger

In that August breeze
of those forgotten trees
your time was set for leaving
come a colder season

In your reckless mind
you act as if you've got more lives
in your reckless eyes
it's never too late for a chance to seize some
final breath of freedom very wise

Don't reveal it
I'm tired of knowing
where it is you're going

In your reckless mind
you act as if you've got more lives
in your reckless eyes
you only have time and your love of danger
to it you're no stranger

In your reckless mind
you act as if you've got more lives
in your reckless eyes
it's never too late for a chance to seize some
final breath of freedom


If You Intend (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time In Eden)

if you intend to live again
open your eyes and don't pretend you're feeling
there's nothing worth believing

if you persist you'll die like this
and wither in the midst of your first season
cut down with no reason

how can you be so near and not see everything?

if you intend to live again
take the outstretched hand of the one that needs you
it's been so long, we've missed you

why do you intend to speed your end
lie in the dark and let your limbs grow weaker
sinking low then deeper?

how can you be so near and not see everything?

feel what might be
see what I see
again and again and again say you don't
you say you don't, but you will

Who can you save?

Think of all the professions that center around saving lives - doctors, paramedics, firefighters, etc. While I can imagine that it must be extremely exhilarating and gratifying to succeed in rescuing someone from mortal danger, I can't imagine what it takes to work in a profession that requires you to see so much death. In an attempt to get insight into the psyche of people who do these jobs, I asked a friend who worked as an ER nurse to explain to me how she coped with seeing people die in front of her on a regular basis. I wanted to understand the personal strengths and thought processes that made this kind of work possible. There had to be a solid answer.

She replied that in the beginning of her career, whenever she was working on someone and they died, she would immediately go to the cafeteria and eat ice cream to console herself. But when she stopped being able to button her pants, she desisted from the habit. Then she shrugged. It was not exactly the answer I was looking for. But I didn't respect her any less. I just figured it was too complex an issue for someone to simplify for me. Or, possibly, that ice cream truly is the answer to life's most complex questions.

There are also professions that center around saving lives in a different way. There are various types of social workers who deal with the depressed, the addicted and the abused on a daily basis. A physician trying to heal a physical trauma has a degree of control over what happens to their patient, they can try to save them in whatever manner they see fit. But when all you have is the power of persuasion to try to convince someone to do what it takes to save their own lives...that's a whole different story.

I put Noah's Dove and If You Intend together for this week's post because I've always felt that these songs were similar in theme. Both songs seem to touch on the topic of self-inflicted peril, but from slightly different perspectives. While the words to If You Intend express fear and frustration, its references to the outstretched hand of a friend, and the very fact that the word "if" is in the title, suggest that the song is both a warning and a plea to turn around before it's too late.

But if If You Intend is the voice of warning, then Noah's Dove is the voice of defeat. Most of the words are written in the past tense and with very little sense of optimism. The song seems to be an epitaph of abandoned hope.

Regarding who these two songs are written about, you might be surprised at Natalie's answer:

"I was partially singing to myself, though I thought it would be too convoluted to present the songs that way. I think everyone has a multitude of people inside them when they face decisions. The conflicts in my own head are way more severe than any I've had with other people." - Record Collector, October 1992

I love this tiny piece of insight, don't you?

Overall, If You Intend has always struck me as being the poor man's Noah's Dove. It's not a bad song, but lyrically, and especially musically, Noah's Dove is far superior. If You Intend feels like an afterthought, a lightweight on an album full of heavy hitters.

Let's talk about the music for Noah's Dove for a moment. You know that quote from Claude Debussy, "Music is the space between the notes"? This seems especially true of Noah's Dove. It's a beautiful sounding song, but it's also an extremely interesting sounding song. It almost gives the impression that something important is missing from the structure of the song...but that it's supposed to be missing, that it was taken out on purpose. It's quite captivating.

Our Time In Eden is also the first Maniacs album where Natalie plays a significant amount of piano, including on Noah's Dove. I've heard Natalie make a lot of references in recent years to her poor piano-playing abilities. I respect her opinion and accept that it's possible that more intelligent musical minds than I might even agree with her. But I think her playing has a very distinctive sound to it. Maybe it's technically proficient, maybe it's not. But it's a sound I'm quite fond of and without it I don't think Noah's Dove would be nearly the song it is.

So those are my thoughts. What do you think of these two songs? As always, feel free to e-mail me at or comment below (no need to sign in) if you'd like to contribute your two cents to my two hundred. See you next week!

Download If You Intend from Itunes - If You Intend - Our Time In Eden

Download the Unplugged version of Noah's Dove from Itunes - Noah's Dove (Live) - MTV Unplugged: 10,000 Maniacs


  1. Every now and then, I have a brief, fantastical notion that I will do something that would impress Natalie Merchant. Her songs are in my head. Your a revelation. The blog is great. I might finally grasp twitter and learn so much more about the artistic genius of NM. All because of you! Thanks

  2. James -

    You are very kind. I'm glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for the comment!

  3. those 2 songs have really have got me through some tough times and I was just listening to our time in Edan for two days to get the courage to confront a big drug problem. Thanks for being there it is funny I just found this site.

  4. Anonymous -

    Good for you! Thanks for reading the blog.


  5. from Malaga ( Spain ) with loveJuly 27, 2012 at 11:03 AM encanta tu blog!!

  6. noah's dove is maybe my all time favorite NM song. So hard to choose, but yes, I seem to keep going back to this one. What happens musically is amazing: the piano intro is off-beat, meaning that she stresses the 2nd and 4th beat rather than the 1st and the 3rd which you expect. The piano (especially powerful in the unplugged version) gives the song a stride like cadence that completely draws you in. Then, in the album version, the drums add even more to that train like cadence by doubling the beat that was established by the piano: it does 8 beats in a 4 beat measure. Now these are all technicalities but the effect is so amazing, and it proves NM's song writing genius plus her band members' amazing skills: the effect of all this is that it gives the song this inevitability, a no-way-back feel to it. It's pushing you forward, while the lyrics look back. It grabs you up and pulls you along in a story that is essentially sad and tired.
    And that is Natalie's true and amazing gift to us: she touches topics that are heart breaking with a sense of optimism and energetic consolation. She picks us up and helps us to keep moving forward, to keep seeing the light that shines ahead, instead of staring in passive fear at the dark behind us.
    If you think how essentially happy and optimistic 'what's the matter here' sounds when you first hear it. Or how 'king of may' brings tears to your eyes because saying goodbye has never been so full of passion for life.

    Noah's dove is sheer genius in every aspect. What a gift!

  7. Seems like she's being a tad evasive about who Noah's Dove might be about. It's got to be about some guy. At least she's classy enough to not name names.
    Online people are saying it's about some soldier going off to war.
    If it is about herself, what risky life did she lead?
    Her eyes do resemble a dove's though. So hmmmm....

  8. Gonna disagree, If You Intend is my favorite song on this album followed by Stockton Gala Days. The base line in Intend is just killer and the lyrics are very chilling, the most underrated song they ever had in my so humble opinion.