Earlier this week I was driving home from a long day at work and listening to one of the local radio stations that plays at 6PM a set of songs chosen by a listener. That evening’s songs were chosen by a young lady who is at college and who is far away from home, something I can relate to rather well, and one of the songs she chose was a surpassingly beautiful song, full of longing, that I could not remember hearing before. I must admit that my familiarity with Regina Spektor’s work is not particularly great, but I have often liked that which I have heard of her, and so it was the case with this song, simply called “The Call.” After making a mental note of the song, to look it up later, I found out that the song had appeared on the soundtrack to Prince Caspian, the second movie of the Chronicles of Narnia (the movie adaptation of the fourth book in the series, of which I am particularly fond ). In the movie, Peter Pevensie, the eldest of the children who serve as rulers over that fantasy realm, is told that he is too old to return again to Narnia, as is his boy-crazy next oldest sister Susan. The movie is therefore a movie about the bittersweet process of growing up and growing older and leaving the amusements of childhood behind. In this context, I imagine the song as being a reminder that even if Peter has to leave Narnia, that he will return when it is time, as indeed he does (in the novels) at the end of the series as a whole.
Before going into the personal meaning of the song for me, I think it would be worthwhile to examine the lyrics of the song. The song itself is organized in a very straightforward fashion. There are three verses and three similar choruses, along with an instrumental bridge. The first chorus is only sung once, and the second and third chorus are sung twice. As far as a song structure goes, it appears to be a pretty standard AABA (with the B being the instrumental bridge), a very consistent pop song structure. The song itself is a slow-tempo singer-songwriter number with sparse instrumentation, relying on the emotive lyrics to drive the feeling of the song. It was not released as a single, but it would presumably have been the second single of the album after Switchfoot’s “Home,” as there were no other obvious single choices from the movie (as “Lucy,” the next most obvious choice, did not even appear in the theatrical version). The song, despite its obvious beauty, has also not been included on any of Regina Spektor’s studio albums, which is a shame.
The first verse and chorus of the song go as follows :
“It started out as a feeling, / Which then grew into a hope, / Which then turned into a quiet thought, / Which then turned into a quiet word. / And then that word grew louder and louder / ‘Til it was a battle cry.
I’ll come back / When you call me. / No need to say goodbye.”
This particular verse and chorus give a very gentle and descriptive (and very Hebraic, with its waw-construction phrase after phrase) look at how my own heart tends to work, not only in romantic love, but in just about any endeavor that requires hope and optimism, two qualities in rather short supply that I prefer not to waste on unworthy tasks or people. First there is a feeling, a longing or a sensation, and then that feeling steady progresses in strength until it becomes a very public matter. This is not an immediate process, but rather takes a lot of time. Given that I (and certainly not only I) am a person of a very cautious nature when it comes to expressing my hopes and dreams and my feelings about others, usually a certain amount of time must pass and a certain progression must pass for that feeling to feel safe to express. By the end of the first verse, the feeling of the narrator, whatever it is about, is of such a strength that she believes it will endure as long as it takes for the other person to call her back, to return the feeling in kind. I wish I could feel so sanguine about such matters myself, but I have not felt so sanguine for many years.
The second verse and chorus continue the general theme of battle that the first verse has introduced:
“Just because every thing’s changing / Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before. / All you can do is try to know / Who your friends are as you head off to the war. / Pick a star on the dark horizon / And follow the light.”
You’ll come back / When it’s over. / No need to say goodbye. / You’ll come back / When it’s over. / No need to say goodbye.”
This verse again is very sanguine about two things that I happen to be rather skeptical about, namely my competence in choosing wisely who I open my heart to, which has been a longstanding and rather serious problem in life, and also my confidence in surviving the spiritual warfare that has lasted my entire life. I do happen to believe that even if a particular sort of event is new to us that it is not necessarily new overall. That is not hard to believe or conceive of at all. Given the themes of betrayal in Prince Caspian, as well as the reality of such betrayal of friends and family in our lives, something that is a particularly painful and unpleasant matter, it seems incredible that the narrator would trust her ability to know her true friends. Being someone who considers myself to be very loyal, if very cynical, it is deeply painful for me to have such a low degree of trust in most other people, except for those who have proven themselves in particularly difficult times (given that the ordinary level of difficulty in my life is apparently not high enough to ensure loyalty). I would very much like to trust, and very much like to be sure of my own well-being through life’s troubles, but at this stage of my life seeing is believing. Blessed are those who do not need to see to believe.
After a lovely instrumental bridge, the third verse and chorus close the song as follows:
“Now, we’re back to the beginning. / It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet. / But just because they can’t feel it too, / Doesn’t mean that you have to forget. / Let your memories grow stronger and stronger / ‘Til they’re before your eyes.
You’ll come back / When they call you. / No need to say goodbye. / You’ll come back / When they call you. / No need to say goodbye.”
This verse is perhaps the most meaningful to me, and also the most gloomy. It appears as if the narrator is singing this verse either to herself, or to someone with whom she has shared deeply private feelings that others do not know about or share. Despite this difficulty, she has faith that her friend or lover will return when the memories of that feeling (presumably love of some kind) is brought to mind. There are a lot of people who have done a lot of leaving, not merely in the geographical sense but in the emotional sense, by closing their hearts. And to be sure, I have done plenty of leaving myself, which I hope has not brought unhappiness to others. Where I tend to doubt more is the immense difficulty I have in forming relationships where there is an expectation of emotional intimacy, and the complicated interaction of hope and fear tends to make such matters as this song discusses particularly treacherous and deeply unpleasant. Were the longings for connection with others less intense, the difficulty would not be so bothersome, were the difficulties less intense, the longing would not be the source of such endless and deep frustration. Yet we do not have ideal situations to work with, but we have to do the best with what we have.
Given the context of my own life, the song itself has a rather melancholy undertone to me. The fault, I suppose, is not in the song itself. It is lovely; it is beautiful; it is filled with a touching sweetness. The fault, if there is fault, is that I cannot listen to such sweetness without a reflection on the bitterness that I have known. One example should suffice. Over and over again the song says, “No need to say goodbye.” By that , several interrelated thoughts come to mind. I wonder, for example, what reason I have for not liking to say goodbye and foreclose the possibility of seeing someone again, but rather prefer to leave an open-ended farewell that always has the potential for renewal of close interaction. I know that whenever I have moved from one place to another, I have generally not wished to make a big fuss about leaving, regardless of the circumstances, because I have not ever felt at home enough to know where I will settle down, and have returned often enough to some places not to wish to make a fierce break from any place I have lived, no matter how painful my experiences there. I hope it may be understood, at least, why such thoughts tend to make me feel sad, even if the song itself is not sad but ultimately hopeful, largely because I do not associate the absence of farewell with only good things, unlike the narrator. Perhaps, in time, I may have enough good experiences that the bad ones lose their sting, but I am not there yet. Often I wonder if I will ever know better days than I have seen, where I can listen to this song and others like it without a cynical rejoinder to its upbeat idealism in the face of the recognized darkness of this world. That day has yet to come.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: