Jason Isbell’s ‘Elephant’ is the saddest, greatest love song of 2013


A guy and girl sitting at a bar. They’ve known each other for a long time but now something new is happening.

She said, ‘Andy, you’re takin’ me home/But I knew she planned to sleep alone/I’d carry her to bed and sweep up the hair from the floor…”

Sense the darkness in that room, the small comfort of the solitary bed and the whisper of the bristles against the floorboards. You can hear it in the direct voice and the unresolved guitar chords, too. The inescapable fact of death coming closer.

“I’d sing her classic country songs/And she’d get high and sing along/But she ain’t got much voice to sing with now…”

Jason Isbell’s album Southeastern (buy it on his site, on iTunes or wherever you buy music) pulled me in about two songs into my first listen on Spotify, but “Elephant” was the song that made me stop what I was doing and turn it up. Something about the pain his voice and the lightly sketched details (e.g., ‘Seagrams in a coffee cup’) rippled my marrow. The elephant that walks alongside all of us. And, if we’re lucky, the loving presence that lights our way into the end.

“There’s one thing that’s real clear to me/No one dies with dignity/We just try to ignore the elephant somehow/Somehow/Somehow…”

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