Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Can we talk about “Sister Golden Hair” for just a couple of minutes? And by “talk about,” I mean “I’m going to ponder it in written form,” not, “we’re going to have a conversation about it,” because although this is a blog on a website on the internet, I’m under no delusions that anybody ever reads it or would comment on it. But I have thoughts, and this is how I organize them sometimes. Okay, this is getting way too meta. Let’s start over:

“Sister Golden Hair” is an old favorite from way back, maybe even from the time it was released in 1975 when I was getting into pop music so hard. It seemed like such a romantic song to my adolescent ears and for many years after, but parsing the words now it’s hard to see much romance in it at all:

Well, I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damned depressed
That I set my sights on Monday, and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar, but I do agree there’s times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine

Here’s a song about a person who had a date to meet someone, possibly a special someone, possibly even a wedding date, that the person broke off at the last minute, maybe without notifying the person they were meeting on the aforementioned date, on the excuse that they felt depressed, likely about the date itself because they use the excuse they “ain’t ready for the altar.”

First things first: I don’t think this is a song about depression. I think the first line ends “I got so damned depressed” because it scans better than “I felt so sorta down” or “the prospect made me bummed.” I think this one particular meet-up brought him down for some reason (*cough* commitment issues *cough*) and he’s begging off on the excuse that he had the sads that day. I don’t think it was clinical.

Next thing: I parsed the first verse in a gender neutral way even though I’m pretty sure it’s a guy talking about a date with a gal, because a guy wrote it and a guy sang it and he says “a woman sure can be a friend of mine,” as if that’s a far-out concept. Whether or not he jilted her at the altar is up for interpretation – I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, say he used the phrase “ready for the altar” to contrast more starkly with the “friend of mine” line, and “only” stood her up, leaving her waiting at the coffee shop or wine bar or wherever she whiled away an hour or so waiting for him.

The next verse seems to be an attempt to smooth over standing her up by a) flattering her, and b) dumping on her a little bit:

Well, I keep on thinking ’bout you, sister golden hair, surprise
And I just can’t live without you, can’t you see it in my eyes
I’ve been one poor correspondent, I’ve been too, too hard to find
But that doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind

“Hey, baby, even though I’m avoiding you and I don’t write to you, I’m always thinking about you and I can’t live without you.” Also, she should know this just by looking into his eyes, like telepathy is a real thing; it’s on her if she can’t see that.

This is a soft-rock version of the irrepressible pop-music genre “guys can’t be tied down by a one-woman relationship because they’re guys and guys are just like that, okay?” Or at least that’s how it sounds to me. Before I wrote this post I looked up other interpretations of the lyrics, which I ordinarily try not to do to avoid contaminating my thoughts, but this time around I wasn’t thinking of writing anything about “Sister Golden Hair” until I read those other interpretations because none of them came close to what I was thinking myself. “Sister Golden Hair” means she’s a nun? She’s a Christian and she’s saving herself for marriage? And he specifically mentioned golden hair because (actual comment) “the carpet matched the drapes?”

I guess everybody’s entitled to their own interpretations, even when they come from left field. I mean, mine are probably deep into left field, too, as anybody’s would very likely be when they try to find meaning in a 1970s pop music lyric. Ultimately, I’m sure the most likely explanation for any pop-music lyric is that it doesn’t mean all that much, other than the song writer was trying to paint a feeling that was, according to many song writers, very likely influenced by drugs or alcohol or both.

Sister Golden Hair | 12:20 pm CDT
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