I have a hard time deconstructing creative thing such as music, dance, art, and even architecture to an extent when I’m by myself. I can listen to a song or see a painting and like it, but I usually couldn’t tell you why. I usually only start to tease it out if I have someone around to talk about it with. Or, if I’m by myself and am interested in a song, I might look up the liner notes for it online or read the Wikipedia entry. Once I learn the motivation behind a song I can appreciate the tone, the key, I hear things in the voice that I didn’t before and I love the song all the more. However, with How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come Around) as performed by Dr. John, there is no such ambiguity. Everything is so open and out there. It’s disarming, it’s disturbing, it’s beautiful, and it hits you square in the jaw.
Everything about this song is a little … off. There are verses and choruses, but the chorus is just a single line: the nagging eponymous question. The first time I heard this song, I wasn’t listening closely to the lyrics. I only really started catching on as to why his dog didn’t bark during the clarinet solo. Suddenly the unhinged, barely-controlled instrumentation came into focus, and the angry sneer in his voice became frightening to me. He describes his violent desires in shocking clarity, and you can hear the pain of months, maybe years of deception by 2 people he loves culminate in a lucid rage. Most disturbingly, there is joy in his madness as well. The lyrics are clear, delivered in a measured growl, and words also dance with each other internally in each line with cruel poetry. The pain, the internal rhyme, the rage and the joy and the vile nastiness of the groove crystallize into a sledge that hits you in the stomach so hard it knocks the wind out of you, and in that moment when you can’t breathe you can’t figure out whether you want to get as far away from this man as possible or throw him a parade.
I love this song.