by Brenda Roger
She had me at “little pink dress.” That’s the opening line of a Patty Griffin song called, Trapeze that appears on her new CD Children Running Through. The first time I heard it was about a year ago at a live show here in Pittsburgh. She said she was about to go into the studio to start recording and just felt like going out and singing a little. Ah, just wanting to make art for the joy of it. I knew I liked her for a reason.
Something about the trapeze song stuck with me. For days afterward I would think of the last line of the refrain, “one of these nights the old girl’s goin’ down” and smirk. I understood what it meant. Completely.
When introducing the song, Griffin told the story of what inspired her to write it. She grew up in rural Maine. One of the only entertaining things that ever happened there was when the carnival or circus pulled into town. She remembers being taken to the carnival when she was really little and seeing this woman she described as “not young” on the trapeze in a pink chiffon dress. She went on to explain that when you are really, really little, you can tell when someone isn’t young. Since turning forty, Patty Griffin had been thinking a lot about the woman on the trapeze, so she invented a history for the woman and wrote a song about her.
My life in no way reflects the specific narrative of the trapeze woman, but I can recognize and relate to the truth of the song, and truth in art is what makes it valuable. The song is about being stuck someplace, frozen in time and crippled by circumstances. It is about lost chances and unrealized potential. The song ends with the line “halleluiah, the old girl’s goin’ down.” Why halleluiah? Because now she has broken the cycle and is out of the trap. It is time to move on and do something else.
No more dangling in the air.