I’ve never felt like I’ve fit in. I used to be under the delusion that this was a singular feeling, that I was the world’s only misfit. The older I got, the more I realized how presumptuous of me that had been. I felt stupid, sure, for my feelings of isolation, but mostly I felt like I was Lucy discovering Narnia for the first time. I had spent my whole life thinking I was alone but suddenly, one day during my adolescence, I realized there was a whole world of misfits out there! And they wrote songs!
Nothing’s better than the feeling of being completely understood in four minutes or less by some attractive guy or gal with a guitar. I was sitting on the porch at my friend’s house not too long ago and she was playing me music as we chain-smoked cigarettes, something that I’m noticing is a recurring theme in my stories these days. It was one of our first times hanging out one-on-one and it was proving to be a great night because, with her playing DJ, it was very easy for me to judge her based upon her musical tastes and boy, she was busting out some jams. After some Iron Horse and The Hold Steady, she asked me if I’d ever heard of Laura Marling. I had, I said, but what I didn’t say was that I wasn’t that crazy about her. Of course, I hadn’t heard “Alas, I Cannot Swim”.
“Alas, I Cannot Swim” is a simple folk song with a nice musical twist at the end when the knee slappin’ part kicks in. Overall, there isn’t anything too special about it but in its simplicity, there’s a sort of perfection to be found. The song finds Marling listing off all the things that wait for her across the river only to reveal that she can’t swim to them. It’s the perfect lullaby for any misfit, full of cold comfort as you commiserate with Marling and thoughts of your own regrets.
There are times in everyone’s lives when you make a very conscious decision that will change your life forever. Whether it’s breaking up with a long term lover or moving to another state, you make choices and it changes everything. It’s strange to think about how different things could be. I’ve made some life-altering decisions and sometimes I feel like I’ve lost a lot. Just like it is with Marling, there was a life across the river that was meant for me. Additionally, I can’t swim in real life just as my figurative self can’t swim in my current metaphor, so that’s a fun fact for you. What Marling sings of as “Alas, I Cannot Swim” progresses, however, isn’t all about what she’s lost. It’s also about the fact that she’s gained. And see, that’s what they don’t tell you. When you choose an atypical life — when you decide to leave your fiance, when you decide to not start a family, when you decide to take the low paying music journalism job over 9 to 5 office bullshit — you gain a whole world of other things. Even when I lament about my lack of money or my inability to foster a relationship, I never regret it. And it’s nice to know that Marling feels the same way.