For Everyman | Teen Ink

For Everyman

September 17, 2021
By Anonymous

“For Everyman,” is a 1973 album that is many things—cool and warm and tender, poignant and depressing, slow and melodic, trashy and stupid, sympathetic and understanding, mature and immature, wild and resigned, all wrapped up in one smooth, old-fashioned record. The cover shows a distant figure in the shelter of a palm tree in a large California house. The title shows that its songs are meant to relate to everyone, especially the worn-down person who feels that nobody listens to him and that the world is changing too fast.

The album shows many contradictions and beauty, as though it were a musical coming-of-age story. For all its strange moments, this one is a masterpiece, like most of Jackson Browne’s albums. Still, it would take a careful listening for someone to appreciate it (if they can find the album anymore.)

After Jackson Browne had made airwave-play in 1972 with “Doctor My Eyes,” his second effort would probably have been a failure, if he had not lucked up and got to co-write one of the Eagles’ biggest hits, “Take It Easy.” The Boomer road-trip staple appears on this album as well as the Eagles’. It became one of the defining songs for California in the early 70s. The person in the song is trying to drown his sorrows in chasing women on Route 66.

“Redneck Friend,” was another hit single. Its hidden references to sex and drugs make it more than a little awkward in trying to explain the meaning. The musician banging a piano glissando in the background is Elton John, who referred to himself by a fake name on the record.

“These Days,” was written when Jackson Browne was only sixteen. At first, it sounds almost exactly like a California bluegrass-folk group called the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The lyrics are very much like Bob Dylan’s. “Well I’ve been out walking, I don’t do too much talking, these days, these days. These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do for you, and all the times I had the chance to.” It is strange how a teenager fancied himself a world-weary person who “sits on cornerstones and counts the time in quarter tones to ten.” The singer pleas, “Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them.”

“Ready or Not,” was a loser song. It is about Browne pretending not to understand that his girlfriend is pregnant and bragging about how he met her in a barroom brawl he lost, “defending her dignity.” The track sounds like a cheap-shot version of a 1974 hit called “Having My Baby,” only this song is backed with piano and violins. The girlfriend obviously was not happy to be the subject of this song, seeing that it begins with talking about her morning sickness and ends by saying that at least she got a washing machine to get a start on being a good housewife.

“The Times You’ve Come,” and “I Thought I Was a Child,” are sweet and unexciting love songs. Slide guitar and piano are the main instruments, simple chord progressions and meditative lyrics. Nothing much is harsh or angry or demanding revolution on this album—it’s just about love, longing, and finding yourself. Ordinary people and happenings suddenly seem powerful when put under this poetic microscope.

“Colors of the Sun,” and “Our Lady of the Well,” are spiritual songs. Nobody has tried to decipher the lyrics, but they sound beautiful all the same—fragile and mysterious and odd. One can almost feel cool splashes landing on a fountain. “Colors of the Sun,” is obscure and rarely played anymore. It has a sudden melodic change from a dark minor to a sweeping vocal harmony, and an extended note at the end of each verse that pauses on an important word to bring it back to the dark minor. “Disillusioned savior search the sky, wanting just to show someone the way, asking all the people passing by, doesn’t anybody want the way?”

And “Our Lady of the Well,” although it is not celebrating Catholics or any organized religion, uses the imagery of drawing water from a well as symbol of spiritual healing, the end of war, resurrection, and rebirth. The “people in the sun,” here are just like the “sisters of the sun,” on Browne’s hit song, “Rock Me on the Water.”

“Sing My Songs to Me,” is even more obscure. There are almost no live recordings of this track, which was meant to bleed into the title song, “For Everyman.”

Over six minutes long, “For Everyman,” is an extended, stream-of-consciousness ballad that describes the plight of stuck people. “Everybody I talk to is ready to leave with the light of the morning. They’ve seen the end coming down long enough to believe they’ve heard their last warning. Standing alone, each has his own ticket in his hand. And as the evening descends, I think thinking about Everyman.” This was 1973, and the hippie era had worn itself to nothing, all the dreams and idealism shattered. The U.S. had just endured a humiliating loss in Vietnam and found itself embroiled in the seemingly endless Watergate scandal. Cities were falling apart with riots, nuclear war was a menacing thought, and more people were becoming destitute—things were happening in America that had never happened before. Most people were torn between wanting to stay in the country to fight for their way, or else they wanted to escape to some remote Pacific island, where a perfect hippie society could finally happen. The band Crosby, Stills, and Nash wrote a song about their escape wish. It was called, “Wooden Ships”:

Black sails knifing through the pitchblende night/Away from the radioactive landmass madness/From the silver-suited people searching out/Uncontaminated food and shelter on the shores/No glowing metal on our ship of wood/Only free happy crazy people naked in the universe (source, Wikipedia.)

 “For Everyman,” was a reaction to “Wooden Ships,” suggesting an alternative to abandoning America—stay and wait for Everyman to change things. Fresh gold is in people’s hearts. Even if we cannot save goodness and rightness, we can stay and sympathize with the person who has no way out. Maybe the only thing hopeless people have is other hopeless people to cling onto. “Don’t think too badly of one who’s left holding sand—he’s just another dreamer dreaming about Everyman.”

Some people wondered, who is Everyman? Does he symbolize all the people who have no voice? Is he a Christ figure? Is this song saying that all people together cannot make the slightest change, or is it saying that the littlest person can change the course of history?

Even though this song is not as exciting as “Rock Me on the Water,” its melodic structure shows its message. Circling in a broody minor and then coming out with a cautious joy at the end gives the impression of people who never give up. Propeller sound effects made by a guitar suggest some people going into their rowboats and making a run for safety.

One theme on this album that repeats over and over is childhood—wanting to be a child again, craving the illusions of youth, pretending to be a child, wanting an idyllic and childlike society, and facing the terrible prospect of bringing a new life into this world. Nobody can live as carefree as a Hobbit in the Shire. Everyone alive has to carry new burdens and strange fears. What will we do? Can we escape?

In “For Everyman,” the stuck people want to carefree and little again. “Everybody’s just waiting to hear from the one who can give them the answers and lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun where sweet childhood still dances. But who’ll come along and hold out that strong but gentle father’s hand? Long ago, I heard someone say something about Everyman.” And “I Thought I was a Child,” seems angry, in a way, talking about a romance that puts an end to the singer doing as he pleases. “I thought I was a child, until you turned and smiled. I thought that I was free, but I’m just one more prisoner of time, alone within the boundaries of my mind.”

All this is coming from a singer who wrote “A Child in these Hills,” just one year ago. Could it be that all this angst and hating to grow up symbolizes the entire Sixties generation leaving their fragile illusions for a future of unbelief and despair? A few years ago, they had invented a brand-new philosophy of the universe, but now, suddenly, they wished they’d never left their childhood shells. The future was a hailstorm, and they only wanted to be safe again, even safe inside lies.

 Nothing is certain anymore. Music cannot even contain the new feelings we’re forced to carry. “For Everyman,” bleeds cautious uncertainty, as the scared young father said in “Ready or Not”—“I guess we’ll reach some understanding when we see what the future will bring.” Well, at least something is about to change. We have each other. This album is a feast of smooth Seventies sounds that soothe the troubled mind.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.