4

The first verse My Thanksgiving by Don Henley (from Inside Job) reads as follows:

A lot of things have happened
Since the last time we spoke
Some of them are funny
Some of 'em ain't no joke
And I trust you will forgive me
If I lay it on the line
I always thought you were a friend of mine

This makes it sound like the song is addressed to an "ordinary" friend that he just hasn't seen in awhile. The next verse seems to reinforce that:

Sometimes I think about you
I wonder how you're doing now
And what you're going through

These lines from the next verse, however, makes this sound like a romantic relationship:

The last time I saw you
We were playing with fire
We were loaded with passion
And a burning desire

This makes it sound like the passion is for each other; I suppose that it's possible that the passion referred to here wasn't for each other, but this seems like an odd interpretation to me.

However, the next verse refers to this individual as "my friend" in the present tense:

Now the trouble with you and me, my friend
Is the trouble with this nation

This doesn't really sound like a former romantic partner, more like a friend that he hasn't seen in a long time.

What is the nature of this relationship?

7

The lines about passion and desire do strongly imply a romantic relationship, but only when taken out of context. Here is the full stanza.

The last time I saw you
We were playing with fire
We were loaded with passion
And a burning desire
For every breath, for every day of living
And this is my Thanksgiving

In context, the passion and desire clearly isn't for each other, it's for life itself. This stanza considered in whole, as combined with the other lines you cited, plus the below quote from late in the song, instead suggest two platonic friends who were once young (and full of the passion of youth) together, and are now getting old together.

And I don't mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I'm welcoming the fall

2

Great question. One of the things I've noticed about Henley's lyrics, having memorized and performed a LOT of them, is that they lack coherency. He's a master of powerful one-liners that sound terribly meaningful and insightful in isolation but when taken in the context of the larger song lose meaning.

In this case I think he simply drifts off. He starts the first verse addressing someone who obviously is important to him. I don't think it's important whether the relationship is romantic or platonic. I initially took it to mean Don Felder or someone from the band who is as fiercely creative as he is but from whom he is estranged. Then in the all-important hook, when you expect him to tie it all together with gratitude for the person's influence in his life, he wanders off to gratitude for life and breath instead - nothing to do with the previous 16 lines.

As another example, the second verse shifts gracefully from the personal relationship problems to American cultural problems - lack of appreciation. But again in the chorus he non-sequiturs to things for which he is personally grateful. I think a better poet would have continued with, and put a ribbon on, the theme of social/cultural issues. Coherent lyrics often pose a question or conflict in the verse that they then answer in the chorus and make further observations on in the bridge - a powerful formula.

I love Henley's songs but I think crediting him with lyrics that are as crafted as, for instance, Sting's, is a mistake.

A glaring exception to my broad generalization is the lyrics to "Hotel California" which smack of Henley's dark, ironic style; are singularly brilliant and gripping; tell a very coherent story; and blow your mind in the last line "You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave."

  • 1
    Good points, +1 from me for an interesting and unique perspective on this. Welcome to the site by the way -good to have you. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 1 at 3:46
0

The text is obviously ambiguous, but I think you could make an argument that the song is about rejecting the romantic feelings of someone else.

The lyrics begin with the line "I always thought you were a friend of mine." However, the lyrics also make it clear that something happened that damaged their relationship: the narrator says "Sometimes I think about you / I wonder how you're doing now / And what you're going through" which makes it clear that the narrator and the friend haven't seen each other in a while. What could have caused the estrangement?

The lyrics heavily imply that that the last time the narrator and the friend were together, they had a romantic encounter. This obviously is implied with the phrase "We were loaded with passion and a burning desire." But I think the more revealing passage comes from near the end of the song:

Here in this fragmented world, I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege

Having a romantic encounter that ended the relationship? Talking about how it's important to not only "give love" but also "receive it"? It seems plausible to me that this is about a friendship where one person wanted a friendship, the other person wanted a romantic relationship, and the conflict between the two caused the relationship to end (the last time they saw each other was during the romantic encounter).

The narrator is thankful: in the fifth verse the narrator notes that they have "family and friends," "satisfying work," and "a back that bends". Conspicuously absent from that list is any mention of a romantic relationship.

The thankfulness seems to stem from learning to accept things as they are, even if that means that they don't get everything that they want. The narrator notes that "an angry man / Can only get so far / Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be / With the way things are," which implies that the narrator is trying to accept that the relationship won't happen and to try and be thankful for the things that have happened--the narrators friends, family, etc. Hence the title of the song: the narrator is trying to be thankful for everything even though one thing didn't work out. And hence the final verse of the song, where the narrator expresses thankfulness for not only "every breath [and] every day of living" but also "for everything that broke my heart." They want to move on and avoid fixating on this one event.

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