Tal Bachman, son of Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, is largley known as a one-hit wonder for his romantic single “She’s So High.” I think this label is a bit unfair, though, because it obscures the quality work that Tal Bachman has in his (so far) two albums of work, to say nothing of his excellence outside of the music realm regarding his own family life and sports career. One of the forgotten gems of Tal Bachman’s body of work is the touching and melancholy song “If You Sleep,” which I would like to talk about today.
“If You Sleep” is part of a group of songs that is about the death of loved ones, similar to “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab For Cutie, and with the same general sensibilities about longing for love to triumph over death. If most poems are about love, time, and death, songs that combine two (or all) of these are likely to be particularly reflective and melancholy in nature, and being a person who is somewhat melancholy myself it is hardly a surprise that I am drawn to these songs, even if I have never been in the position to write such a song myself.
The first verse of “If You Sleep” reads as follows: “Figure of divine perfection; / No one’s loved with more affection. / Soul to soul we’ve breathed. / Oh, I won’t let The Fates succeed. / Worried hours of contemplation, / Whispered bits of conversation, / Unaffected orderlies /
Disinfected rooms and hallways .” Here Tal Bachman (who not only sang the song but wrote it as well) sings about the perfection of his beloved as well as their love, and his determination not to let death separate him from his loved one. After starting with his rapturous description of the perfection and depth of their love, he then speaks to the depth of his own concern for her, and the pessimism of those who whisper their fears and bad news to each other in the hallways and rooms of a hospital while uncaring hospital staff go about their normal jobs. This is the picture of someone watching a loved one die, trying to think of anything that can be done to stave off that death.
The chorus of “If You Sleep” reads as follows: “And if you sleep, you sleep with God. / And if I cry, it’s for my heart. / Why should I hope to make it through? / ‘Cause if you sleep, I’ll sleep, too.” Here the author switches from a melancholy reflection on the death of a loved one to a recognition that the loved one will ultimately sleep with God when she dies (viewing death in the same way that I do, as sleep, presumably awaiting the resurrection), and the singer looks forward to the sorry over that death and the realization that someday he will die as well and that this life will not be permanent for him either. “Whoever the bell tolls for, it tolls for me and it tolls for me,” the author is saying.
The second verse of “If You Sleep” continues the melancholy mood: “Jagged thorns and pretty petals, / Butterflies and stinging nettles. / Sunny days and nights of blackness, / But where’s the joy to cure my sadness?” Here Tal Bachman tries to balance out the joy and suffering of life–the jagged thorns and pretty petals of the rose, for example, the beauty of a butterfly and the pain of the stinging nettles, light and darkness, happiness and sadness. Even in a reflection of creation, the singer is forced to confront that life is full of good and evil, suffering and joy. That is the price of life in a fallen world, after all. Death and nettles and thorns are the price of sin, and Tal Bachman’s examination of death and its relationship to the physical creation seems to suggest a subtle Judeo-Christian ethic, which is part of what makes this such an excellent pop song.
The third verse closes the lyrics of “If You Sleep” as follows: “Gleaming cars and covered faces; / Teary eyes in hallowed places.
Grass and granite stone; / No one’s been more all alone.” Unfortunately, this song does not end with a happy ending, but rather with a reflection on the funeral scene where sad faces and shiny cars are mourning over the death of the loved one in a cemetery , and where the singer reflects on his absolute loneliness in the absence of his lover. It is tragic that even among those of us who have some aspects of a biblical worldview, even if we do not completely understand or obey God’s ways, that our belief in the resurrection does not tend to greatly eliminate our sorrow at death, and that our loneliness is often connected to the people in our lives and not generally to any personal relationship with God. As mortal and physical beings with fairly limited understanding and recognition, we need the presence of others close by since God seems so far away.
Ultimately, this song is a melancholy reflection on love and death. The love that the songwriter feels for his beloved is not strong enough to wipe away the pain and sadness and certainty of death. Nonetheless, even in his grief, the singer recognizes his own mortality and the balance of joy and grief in this world, and the knowledge that his loved one sleeps safe and sound in the grave awaiting the resurrection. Eventually, we will all sleep, and some of us look forward to that moment more than others do . But while we are awake, let us live our lives well so that we may fulfill what we have been put on this earth to do.