Fall is just about to begin, so this week, a perfect fall song is on repeat. As soon as Dan Mangan’s “Leaves Trees Forest” starts, you can practically see the leaves falling outside your window. The guitar and the fluttering drums create this sensation of gentle but persistent movement, like a windy autumn evening you watch from the warmth and isolation of your house.
Warmth AND isolation. When the weather starts to turn a little chillier. When you maybe go home a little earlier… the summer quiets down and mellows into autumn. People return to their routines. The days get a little shorter, and the nights longer. Darker. And maybe… more lonely.
“In my heart is a ghost and he drinks and he smokes and he keeps me awake
All through the night my heart shakes
So I live alone… drink beer by the phone it keeps me alive
I know there is hope but I can’t look for it.”
I’m genuinely glad no one’s been keeping count of the number of times I’ve listened to that verse while doing exactly what he describes in it on nights when sleep wouldn’t come and the night seemed like it might never end. I would sit at my desk, the streetlights glowing outside, occasionally being eclipsed by falling leaves and momentarily darkening my living room, and I’d just INDULGE in that ghost. Sipping a drink, dragging a cigarette, and wallowing in that warm, almost pleasant melancholy loneliness. Maybe missing a specific person, maybe just vaguely hoping for a message or a phone call from ANYONE, really, just SOMEONE to take me out of myself. A voice on the other end of the line.
Over and over again:
“There are leaves in the trees, there are trees in the forest.”
Think about a forest as one whole. And then think of the trees. The hundreds and hundreds of them, each one standing tall and alone. And then, on every one of those trees, hundreds and thousands of leaves… each budding and blooming and dying and falling on its own. From a distance, a uniform mass, but up close… isolated individuals on their own time and fluttering in their own wind.
Just like us. Just like me. Just like you.
It took me a long time (and a lot of repeats) to realize what he was singing in the ghostly background vocals around the 2:30 mark. And when I did… it made perfect sense.
“That’s the trouble with everything
Everything always dies and
That’s the thing about everything
Everything always dies”
Not to get too grim, but in essence, this can be taken as a song about how we are all ultimately alone on this journey. Even if we, like the leaves on the trees and the trees in the forest, can gather together for warmth… we are still, in the end, isolated. We die alone, with only ourselves. But somehow, Mangan manages to make this sound like it might not be something to fear. After all, when those leaves fall in autumn, isn’t it beautiful? It’s dark, certainly, and cold out there… and the time and the rain put the “rust in the gears of your ten-speed” – but at once, it’s also soothing. Not just the soft guitar tones or the gentle drums. It’s Mangan’s warm voice that you can hear feels just as much pain as you do, just as much loneliness… and maybe that’s what it is. We may be alone… but like the leaves and the trees and the forest… if we can share that loneliness, acknowledge it, understand it, and then if we can FEEL it together, we may not have to be so isolated after all.
So when those long, chilly autumn nights come, and you’re feeling like you need a voice on the other end of the line – try listening to this one to warm up. You might be alone. But you don’t need to be lonely.