Time is a blur in Rickie Lee Jones’s song, “The Evening of My Best Day.” She sings it in a sleepy, little girl’s voice. On some of the lines, she lets the air out of the balloon early, the way kids sometimes do. The orchestrations are as delicate as a paper doll — nylon string guitar, piano, cello, a little synth, woven together seamlessly. They’re easily overlooked, but only because they’re perfect. The song is so unassuming I nearly missed it the first time around. But Rickie Lee Jones saw fit to name an entire album after it, and she is a great songwriter, one of my favorites. So I went back, and gave it a second listen. And a third, and many more after that, until I developed a personal relationship with this song. Since then, I have shared it with more friends than I can count.
“The Evening of My Best Day” is a short story with only a few enigmatic plot details sketched in. As a listener, you can’t help can’t help bringing your own experiences to the party. My version of the story is that the narrator is a grown woman, reaching back in time with a message for her childhood self. She finds her sitting quietly in her mother’s bedroom, in the aftermath of a Bad Incident at school:
School is a war zone, and the little girl struggles, mostly in silence. On this particular day she made a stand, and the grownups took notice. They laugh about the loneliness of your awkward attack. A very bad day, indeed. And now, all these years later, she has found something within herself, something precious, having to do with self-love. The song is her way of sharing it with the little girl:
A brief musical transition follows, mysterious and slightly dark, out of which the last, beautiful verses emerge:
The song is a love letter, with the healing message that things will get better. Love the little girl, and she will love you back. Rickie Lee Jones sings across the decades, in a voice just the right size for a little girl’s soul to hear it. “A good life, look ahead. The sky is almost blue.”
The sky is almost blue. The song describes a moment of peace and sufficiency in a journey of healing. The road ahead looks good now, but the journey isn’t complete. It can never be complete, in fact. And today isn’t perfect, but it is good enough. Her best day.
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