i recorded the fifth monday song a few weeks ago, as i was preparing to launch the site. i had a few ready at the start: “ghost story,” “nadine,” “winston please,” and an up-tempo song called “and here i’m standing” i plan to premiere next week. the song i finished this week was too sad to put up the monday before christmas. maybe after new year’s. winston please, though sad and full of longing, has a sense of redemption to it, and a country folk gospel kind of vibe that seemed more fitting to the season.
i had the chorus in my head for at least a year, maybe two. at some point the phrase “winston when you ring me up, you always bring me down” got stuck in my head. not really sure where the name winston came from. i knew a winston in junior high (he didn’t know nadine). the old-fashioned name led me to the plot line. winston wasn’t made for these times.
the feel of the song takes some inspiration from joni mitchell, especially “blue,” which is one of the fifty albums in my top ten. i also thought a lot about bill withers’ “lean on me.” the chorus chords are definitely similar, and i had to be careful not to steal his melody. somehow the meaning of “lean on me” informed the song, where the narrator wishes her brother could lean on her, though, sadly, that will never happen.
this is another randy newman inspired piano part. i may just stop referencing him, as i imagine i will be stealing from him regularly.
The chorus is so very much an ode to Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” that I could almost hear him singing it layered in the background behind “Winston, when you ring me up, you know you bring me down. Won’t you understand?”… and that ain’t a bad thing, though it was a little distracting.
Aside, the lyrics here are like a mine shaft. There’s a lot of depth and the air is very cold down there. I could be totally off, but the impression I get is that this is a song about two brothers, the younger being the singer and the older being Winston. Their mom is often sad, though we don’t know why (perhaps divorce, marital problems, loss of a loved one (dad?), or depression) and in these times, Winston comforts the younger brother by taking his hand and playing make believe about happier times from the past and how could have been. The younger brother hoped the older, in that respect, would never change.
Now it’s years later and the relationship is distant, the brothers have gone their separate ways but keep in touch over the phone. The nature of the relationship is still younger to older… the younger can’t “hold the other up” (which could mean that he can’t keep his brother from living his life his way, it also means that he can’t be a support for his older brother — it’s not the way their relationship is built) and at the same time there’s nothing the older brother can do to “let [the younger] down” … “but won’t you take my hand?” is an invitation to revisit the way things were.
Winston dropped out of college a semester into his first year and moved east. “And you blessed the swirling colors that set you free” and what follows reveals that the reason Winston dropped out is that he also came out — he embraced a homosexual lifestyle and would call to regale his brother with stories about his new life. The younger brother didn’t quite know how to deal with this so he’d “lie” and let him be.
The chorus returns here, slightly altered. Now Winston “always” brings the younger brother down when he calls, and the brother’s lament is “can’t you take my hand?” which again is a desire to just return to the way things were before, before Winston had his own roller coaster of emotional problems, perhaps even more serious problems (“your world’s gone gray, your futures all have past”), back when Winston was the stable rock that the younger brother could lean on when the world turned dark.
The third quarter of the song seems to be about the younger brother dealing with Winston’s new identity and his life. He sees Winston searching for happiness and looking back over the years he “sees the signs, the broken-hearted Valentines.” And while the singer has come into his own and is “doing fine” he still misses the brother that was once so concerned with his happiness, expressed in the lament, “I’m doing fine, but I know you’ll never ask.”
Now the chorus comes back again and we have a new light to view it under — when Winston calls he always brings his brother down and his brother, though he loves him, is sounding tired and weary, since all Winston does is dump his baggage on him. Now when the brother says, “I won’t hold you up,” it sounds more and more like the polite dismissals we use to end a phone call. The line, “I hope you find some peace… Winston, please.” is the prayer muttered under the breath and in the heart after the receiver is set down. It’s not so much directed as Winston but at God on Winston’s behalf.
A heavy song… we all have Winstons in our lives, those friends or loved ones that we can’t quit but we almost dread hearing from because it’s always bad news. I hope and pray all our Winstons find peace.
Beautiful song, Andy. Haunting.
i like your reading of the song. you capture the overall tone and emotional subtleties well. thanks for listening so closely. i love the fact that there is more than one possible world in a song. i may have a very clear reality i am speaking to, but those same words can unlock another parallel universe in a listener. one of the great things about music.
Comments are closed.