Last night, as I was falling asleep, I found myself longing to take a vow of silence for just one week. One week without any verbal expression, written or otherwise, to counteract what has been an overwhelming past two months of around-the-clock communication, where it has felt at time as if words were meaningless, pouring out like water. A one week sabbatical from speaking and writing would hopefully restore the potential of language for something other than passing time between actions, would hopefully teach me to consider words more carefully. Nothing is more satisfying to me about language than efficiency and tact. It was in those half-conscious moments that I realized how I would approach “Smile”.
“Smile” seems one of those songs that falls together by chance. 1 note from Dennis (of the Frogs) + Jeff Ament’s Crazy Horse guitar bit + a pretty accomplished harmonica track = “Smile”, a song that despite a relative paucity of words, is among the band’s most evocative tracks. The interplay between lyrics and music feels heaven sent, with the dusty verses unfurling into the catharsis of “I miss you already!” What more need be said: the song possesses natural conviction that it is not just a vague portrait of a state of being (abetted by the line “three crooked hearts, swirls around”, which literally transcribed Dennis’s scribbles), yet is universal in the best sense of the word, a sentiment that should resonate with every listener in his/her own way, but whose meaning can bear lifetimes of shifting and transforming. Sometimes, all a song needs to say is “I feel good!”, “I want to rock and roll all night!”, or “I miss you already”. A minimum of words can lend itself to a more impactful song.
This is why I often feel like writing an instrumental, or taking a vow of silence, to hone my senses back down onto the non-verbal, to focus on what sound and music themselves can say. The chugging, blustery momentum of “Smile” is full of ragged glory, from stately piano chords building up to the chorus, to Vedder’s debut on the mouth harp. It’s a Sunday afternoon in fall, rust colored leaves, reflective, sepia-tone daguerrotype memories of old loves, old friends, old times. “Smile”, with its open-endedness and rough beauty, sparks the imagination rather than dominating it, making it a refreshing song to return to again and again, to clear the head, to sharpen the mind, to make one, well, smile.