I once dated a guy from Iowa. Over winter break of my junior year in college, I drove eight hours to his home in the blasting snow, mostly on a one-lane highway, so that we wouldn’t have to go an entire month apart. I listened to David Gray’s White Ladder on repeat the whole way there. The album was completely different than anything I had heard before; it felt symbolic of my budding relationship.
Six months later, I listened to White Ladder again, but the songs had suddenly, without asking my permission, changed their meanings. They were comfortable, completely broken in and faded in that satisfying way that only comes with age, but they ultimately urged me to let go, to move on. I made the trek to Iowa again, only this time to break up with said boyfriend. It was time to say goodbye.
In 1993, David Gray put out his first studio album, A Century Ends, and in 2009, he released his latest LP, Draw the Line. His musical career is inevitably the epitome of beginnings and endings, a series of red and green lights, hellos and goodbyes. He’s been at the top of the charts, and he’s slipped into purposeful hiding in order to escape himself, risking his relevancy in an ever-changing musical landscape. Regardless, Gray’s music has remained a constant in my life.
It’s definitely his distinct voice, the one whose simplistic poignancy cuts right to the point. It’s also his penchant for mixing electronica with acoustic guitar (particularly on White Ladder and A New Day at Midnight). And it’s his vulnerability, his willingness to lay it all on the line, without shame or hesitation. As usual, it’s Gray’s lyrics I connect with the most.
Gray tackles all of the slings and arrows life dishes out, but he also celebrates the good in the world. His longevity has given him the ability to reflect openly on his personal beginnings and endings, sometimes simultaneously, as on his brilliant cover of Soft Cell’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.” I danced at my wedding to the whimsical “Be Mine,” and I cried uncontrollably listening to “The Other Side” when my grandmother died. Either way…
Gray’s music encapsulates new frontiers and missed opportunities, prayers for love and musings of loneliness, and yes, even, births and deaths. So, whether I’m in love, or I’m drifting away, whether I’m in mourning, or I’m turning cartwheels of happiness, Gray’s songwriting gives me a lifejacket in which to cling or two arms that wrap around me: whatever I need, however I choose to hear the music.
Sometimes, it’s both at the same time.
He said it: