“you may as well feel good/ you may as well have some pride”

I am pretty sure “Second Time Around” is my favorite song on Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. In keeping with my usual way, it isn’t the best song on the album. That distinction probably belongs with “Fleet of Hope” or “Sugar Tongue.” My reasons for loving “Second Time Around” aren’t entirely or even mostly musical; they are personal and nostalgic. The first time I heard “Second Time Around,” I was standing no more than ten feet from Amy Ray. Throughout the rambling, rolling tune, I could not take my eyes off of her. That reaction admittedly isn’t specific to this song, but I was completely mesmerized by the overwhelming feeling that Amy was making it up as she went along. Of course this wasn’t the case, but I remain surprised that every time I hear it, it sounds the same each time.

Another reason I love “Second Time Around” is that it feels like, if not my personal anthem (which still may be, somewhat unfortunately, John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”), then one of the major songs on the soundtrack of my life, along with “Language or the Kiss” by these people you may have heard of who call themselves the Indigo Girls, “Alone But Not Lonely” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Summer, Highland Falls” by Billy Joel, “Real World” by Matchbox Twenty and other songs that use big words to talk about language and solitariness and/or express a disconnection with adult responsibilities, colloquially known as “the real world.”

As for “Second Time Around,” I know that I’m not a “God-fearing lesbian.” Sadly, I fall short on both counts, but the overall feeling of the song seems familiar in a nodding along kind of way. For example, I have always suspected that things come too easily to me (“it’s sort of always gone my way”) and that I sometimes act like I’ve “had hard knocks all my life,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that most of the time, “I’m just a little bit off these days.”

And, maybe because I’m a writer, I generally feel “weary of the world” a good portion of the time. The song’s narrator may have better reasons for the way she feels; my mood is just part of my personality. One of my favorite professors, who loves writers the way only a good literary critic can, likes to say, “Writers aren’t like other people.” It took me a long time to absorb that idea. I’m probably never going to fit with other people. I have moments—shared memories, mutual laughter, and reciprocated emotions—but for the most part, I’m on the outside. Of course, if I didn’t like it there, I would move. If I moved, though, I would lose my perspective and cease to be a writer—and then where would I be?

And I react to stuff just the way Amy describes: “like I didn’t see it coming/ like I didn’t walk in willingly.” I’m genuinely shocked when I stop in the middle of getting ready and sit on the bed and watch MSNBC for ten minutes, and then realize that I’m ten minutes late leaving the house to go to work. This happens more often than I’d like to admit, and I know it is because my head is never 100 percent in the real world. On a good day, I’m operating with 85 or 90 percent of my brain, and I get by adequately. I’ve got “my wits about me” and “my heart in line” enough to “sing again/ la la la like a butterfly.” (But of course I use Amy’s “sing” as a metaphor for being in the world because all the wits and heart in the universe couldn’t make me a good singer.)

I adore that this song doesn’t have a chorus. It just kind of meanders around some issues about situating yourself in the world and then it finds its way back to the last line of the first part: “If you ain’t got nothin’ good to say/ Don’t say nothin’ at all.” That’s the only line that gets repeated in the whole song. Is that, then, the message? “Second Time Around” isn’t a song about dissatisfaction or discontent. It’s more like a state-of-the-writer song, although I read somewhere that Amy wrote it about Emily so perhaps it is a state-of-the-Emily song. At any rate, Amy isn’t making judgments; she’s just presenting the situation. She connects some dots for us, but mostly she lets us draw our own conclusions. These are mine.