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 that’s only because they’re perfect. The song itself is so unassuming I nearly missed it. But Rickie Lee Jones saw fit to name an entire album after this song, 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. 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. The listener can’t help can’t help bringing their 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 little girl self. She finds the girl sitting quietly in her mother’s bedroom, in the aftermath of a bad incident at school:
The little girl struggles, mostly in silence. School is a war zone, and on this particular day she made a stand, and the grownups took notice. They laugh about the loneliness of your awkward attack. A very tough day, indeed. In the present, many years later, she has found something within herself, something to do with self-love, and she wants to share it with her childhood self:
Then, after a brief musical interlude that’s slightly dark, just on the edge of grace, come the last, beautiful verses:
The song is a love letter, with the healing message that things will get better. She sings those lines, “It’s a good life from now on,” 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 self-sufficiency in this woman’s healing journey. The road ahead looks good now, but the journey isn’t complete. It can never be complete, in fact. And today isn’t a perfect day; it’s her best day.
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