I'm Gonna Miss You When I'm Gone

July 25, 2008 8:53 AM

A minor key song about marriage and betrayal, written in 1990. Part of my Old Songs project.

There was a brief window of gainful employment for me in the spring of 1990. I had moved out of the haunted apartment I described in the story behind "God Damn You Tom Brown," and had found work as a dance instructor for the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Minnetonka. I taught advanced ballroom dancing, with particular focus on Latin dances, such as the mambo and the rhumba, which I can still do with a basic level of proficiency. I wrote this song about that time.

I was living in a house in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood near downtown Minneapolis with a young woman who wrote poetry. She and I had a troubled relationship, sometimes quite affectionate, sometimes quite difficult, and much of this was my fault, as I sometimes behaved in a romantic manner toward her, and sometimes was adamant that we should just be friends. I suspect this is pretty typical behavior for a 21-year-old, but that fact embarrasses me, as most 21-year-old boys are pretty wretched romantic partners. But she wasn't entirely blameless either, and so we went for four months or thereabouts, sometimes behaving like the best of friends and sometimes launching into noisy, nasty fights about nonsense. When she was angriest at me, she would write poems about me and leave them out for me to see, but she tended to write in a welter of emotion and so the exact points of her poems were often unclear. I would show them to friends, and ask what they thought the poems meant. "Don't know," my friends would answer. "But she's obviously angry at you."

She could also be quite cruel about my own attempts at creativity, such as this song, which she never heard sung but saw as lyrics on a piece of paper. "You sound like a rich kid trying to sound street smart," she said, which didn't seem fair to me. After all, the narrator of this song is obviously middle class, as was I. I was, instead, a boy trying to sound middle aged. I am middle aged now, so it is sort of strange to actually be the age of the intended narrator for this song when I wrote it. It seems, at worst, a little purple to me. Like a lot of my songs, I wrote it as though it had come from earlier in the 20th century, and, in this instance, placed it in a world where people play a card game called sheepshead and date recent Polish transplants. So the song was a fiction when I wrote it, but that doesn't seem deserving of the criticism she leveled against it. I still think the melody is appealing, and the story it tells, about a wife's fear that her husband will leave her, to be a story worth telling. But, then, I wrote the thing, so I suppose it is natural I might feel some affection for it, even if it has been almost two decades since I have tried to sing it.

I only worked at Arthur Murray for a few months, and then the business started failing and they let me go. I moved out to Los Angeles, had a few adventures there, and then returned to Minneapolis and became part of a rather active anarchist scene out here. One afternoon I ran into a fellow anarchist, a young woman, at the Hard Times Cafe in Cedar-Riverside, and we got to talking. It tuned out she knew the poet I had lived with, and she told a story about her. It seems this poet had organized a number of poetry readings around Minneapolis, and had been responsible for one that was especially notorious. She had read one of her own poems, a rather gloomy piece in which she repeatedly intoned "so empty inside, so empty inside." To hear the anarchist tell it, every time she read these lines, the audience laughed explosively.

There was one fellow in the audience who was quite taken with that phrase, and began to write it as a graffiti tag everywhere he went. In fact, I had seen those tags, all around the Twin Cities, written on walls in bathrooms and the side of bridges. So empty inside. So empty inside.

It was one of the poems that had been written about me.

I guess as a 21-year-old I had seemed like a pretty empty fellow. It was, after all, her criticism of my song: That it was an invention by someone without the experience to tell the story I was trying to tell. It was a fabrication by someone who was trying to sound more experienced than he was. I don't know. Maybe I was empty inside back then. She also claimed I had a tendency to try and sound like I knew more than I did, and, when I was in the company of people who actually did know what they were talking about, I tended to sound like an idiot.

Well, I'm 40 now, and I think, with this particular song, I now am the person who knows what he's talking about. I've both left people badly and been left badly, and know what it feels like to be afraid of that. And, honestly, though it may have been fiction when I wrote the song, I think I nailed how awful that feeling is.


Tomorrow ain't no tickertape
just another goddamn day.
We've got that schaffskopf game to look forward to --
The Valentes want us to play.
What with the strike in Hollycrest
and business in Oxborough,
I'm packed and my best shoes are on.
But I'm gonna miss you when I'm gone.

I've been seen around with that Polish girl.
You know she's caught my eye.
You should pinch up your painted lips
and kiss your wedded man goodbye.
I've got photographs of the other girl.
They don't invite comparison.
But I'm gonna miss you when I'm gone.

We were never a match that heaven made,
You were always afraid of me;
Not that I'd ever raise my hand to you
But I'd lie and I'd leave secretly.
We've reached the end of this particular story
And we're well into denouement;
But I'm gonna miss you when I'm gone.

posted by Astro Zombie (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

The song was nice, but you probably have a good sense of how I respond to these recordings by now. It was your story/explanation that really grabbed me here. I bet there's a song or two in seeing that line from the poem all over town.
posted by danb at 3:31 PM on July 25, 2008

Well, I'm into the storytelling of your lyrics. I really liked both this and "My Fresh Pie". I like them for the aesthetic you're setting up, but I guess I wish they were just a little more tightly constructed in terms of the rhythm of the vocal delivery and playing. The voice and even the effect on it is great.

I made the Tom Waits comparison in my comment to "My Fresh Pie" not only because of the sound of what you're doing, but also because of the theatrical staging going on. Maybe to the poet from your past, the theater of your writing is a lie, whereas to you and many others it's just a device to deliver a true human message. Tom Waits has invented a persona. I really enjoy that character because he uses it to deliver an otherworldly yet relevant beauty. Some people find it to be not genuine, and I can understand that viewpoint. Your introspection above added a lot to this for me. Interesting to think you wrote it a long time ago and now inhabit a body that maybe can relate more deeply to this "fictional truth" you produced earlier in life.
posted by edlundart at 8:59 PM on July 25, 2008

Astro Zombie, that "so empty inside" story is extraordinary. I was struck by how a messed up relationship could spark something that soon is painted on overpasses and scrawled on bathroom walls.

All of the details of these Minneapolis stories are a little haunting to me, now that I'm away; Minneapolis and New Orleans are mirror cities for us right now, I guess.
posted by umbĂș at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2008

You need to release a CD that comes with a book of stories, is what. Or vice-versa.

I particularly like the increasingly drawn-out readings of the title line.

I need to look into this "minor key" thing.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 9:51 PM on July 27, 2008

The voice and even the effect on it is great.

yeah, what're you doing to your voice on these? It's not something I'd want every person to do on every song, but for your stuff it's working really well?
posted by COBRA! at 7:49 AM on August 1, 2008

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