Bill Danoff's Songwriting Seminar first semester of my freshman year, fresh-faced and eager to learn just how to craft a song from start to finish (as if it was a process that could really be taught), Bill put on Nico's cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days" as an example of the specificity and depth of emotion we should aim for in our songwriting attempts. I was floored. I didn't know if it was a boy or a girl singing, I didn't know what they were talking about or what kind of accent they had, but from that first line, "I've been out walking..." I was sold. I had "been out walking," too-- haven't we all? Nico meant what she sang, enough that it was palpable for all who were listening.
I was feeling pretty good about myself, being so moved by this song at the ripe old age of 18, giving myself a pat on the back for having enrolled in this cool class as a mere freshman, thinking I must be way ahead of the game in this whole songwriting thing. That's when Bill dropped the bomb that I've never forgotten, one that left me with an even deeper appreciation for this song as well as a healthy dose of humility: "...and Jackson Browne was only 16 when he wrote this song, so you can keep that in mind." Um, what? 16? When I was 16 I was certainly not singing "Please don't confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them." It went more like, "Mom! Don't TELL me I'm doing it wrong, I already know!" A whole lot less eloquent, even if Nico herself somehow managed to make that into a song. Browne's profound verse, perhaps, lends itself to being covered and Nico has done that most legendarily with her chanteuse vocals, although as of late I've become a fan of both Elliott Smith, St. Vincent, and especially Gregg Allman's version (seen here with Graham Nash.)
-- Caroline Klibanoff