“Divorce Song”

“Divorce Song”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Liz Phair
“Divorce Song”

Written and Recorded by Liz Phair

One of the things I love about songwriting is the free flow from the unconscious to the conscious state. It’s like fishing — sometimes you get rare fish, other times you get the expected bass or trout.

This song was written long before I had any real understanding of divorce, with insight I couldn’t have had. Although people think that I wrote this based on my own experience, it was written ten years before I was divorced.

What’s funny is that the song was inspired by a drive I took when I was in college in Ohio. A guy I was casually seeing took me for a ride one night through cornfields in his bright blue Miata with the top down. That was unusual in itself since at that time we all shunned material things. Towards the end of the night, we were bickering about the most ridiculous things. We were thinking about staying in some seedy motel and he thought I was supposed to know where it was, and one thing led to another. We were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. It was that excursion that gave me the idea of the road trip. I wrote the song after that night and didn’t record it until years later. Even then, I thought it was a sleeper; I didn’t think it was that special. Every time I play it live, though, people love it. Fifteen years later, it’s still always in demand, perhaps because so many people can relate to it.

The song encapsulates so many things. Most importantly, it communicates the power of words and the fact that you can’t take back the things you say — and that’s not only true in love.

But when you said that I wasn’t worth talking to

I had to take your word on that.

But if you’d known

How that would sound to me

You would have taken it back

And boxed it up and buried it in the ground.

If you phrase words the right way, they have tremendous power. You can create images of cheating, arguments, money problems and all of the other issues that can destroy a relationship. But most of the time it is the little things that happen daily that build up over time and you can’t come back from. It’s the insidious resentments, cruelties that add up over time that create an undercurrent from which you can’t escape. Watch what you say! It’s a hard lesson to learn.

If you have someone’s heart, you are responsible for their most valuable part and you have to be careful how you handle it.

You put in my hands a loaded gun

And then you told me not to fire it

You can kill with a gun or protect with it.

I believe that there are pre-figured things in life, that is, you can write about things that will happen. I will go to my grave believing that. For instance, I wrote “Whip-Smart” long before I had a child. The song is about having a son and what I would teach him and to this day I have only one son.

I’m gonna tell my son to grow up pretty as the grass is green

And whip-smart as the English Channel’s wide

And I’m gonna tell my son to keep his money in his mattress

And his watch on any hand between his thighs

And I’m gonna lock my son up in a tower

Till I write my whole life story on the back of his big brown eyes

There’s a magic to songwriting. It usually comes in one piece, free form. It feels like you’re channeling. What you write often becomes reality.

“Divorce Song”

And when I asked for a separate room

It was late at night

And we’d been driving since noon

But if I’d known

How that would sound to you

I would have stayed in your bed

For the rest of my life

Just to prove I was right

That it’s harder to be friends than lovers

And you shouldn’t try to mix the two

’Cause if you do it and you’re still unhappy

Then you know that the problem is you.

And it’s true that I stole your lighter

And it’s also true that I lost the map

But when you said that I wasn’t worth talking to

I had to take your word on that.

But if you’d known

How that would sound to me

You would have taken it back

And boxed it up and buried it in the ground,

Boxed it up and buried it in the ground

Boxed it up and buried it in the ground

Burned it up and thrown it away.

You put in my hands a loaded gun

And then you told me not to fire it

When you did the things you said were up to me

And then accused me of trying to fuck it up

But you’ve never been a waste of my time

It’s never been a drag

So take a deep breath and count back from ten

And maybe you’ll be alright

And the license said

You had to stick around until I was dead

But if you’re tired of looking at my face I guess I already am

But you’ve never been a waste of my time

It’s never been a drag

So take a deep breath and count back from ten

And maybe you’ll be alright

Lyrics and Music by Liz Phair. © CIVIL WAR DAYS MUSIC; SONY/ATV TUNES LLC

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