There’s a moment in this song, when Steve Forbert sings “sneak on out beneath the stars and run,” that meant everything to me when this song was new. A whole world, a world far away, lived inside that one line — and it couldn’t have resonated more with me, a young man who so desperately wanted to get out of the town of his birth.
Forbert, then having just issued a pair of albums, sang with an old man’s voice, though. It was oaken, weathered, knowing. I had trouble imagining how he could be so aware of what it felt like for me, right then. So, I bought the album (Jackrabbbit Slim, produced by John Simon, who did so much important work the Band) and there Forbert was on the cover — a kid, just like me.
Later, when the rest of the song — you know, the smelling of the moon in her perfume, so on — started making more sense, there were new layers to peel back. The title, “Romeo’s Tune,” felt just right, not so much ironic as self deprecating. Forbert knew about the confusion of young love too, and of young love lost.
Finally, as this song — the Meridian, Mississippi native’s lone Top 40 hit, and as good a reason as any for a new two-fer reissue by Blue Corn Music featuring Jackrabbit Slim paired with Forbert’s 1978 debut Alive on Arrival — continue to gray along with me, I heard still more things: “Gods and years will rise and fall, and there’s always something more,” Forbert sings, “lost in talk, I waste my time, and it’s all been said before” — perfectly describing the descending clouds of middle-age ennui.
These days, when he invites his lady out under the night sky, Forbert’s not singing about escaping anymore — not to my ear. Instead, in a twist that would have brought a rueful smile to my younger self, he seems to be perfectly happy at home, utterly content in the embrace of an age-old lover.
“Romeo’s Tune” is that rarest of things, a song that you grow into.
This terrific Steve Forbert double-album reissue, due on March 26, 2013, also features 12 bonus tracks (including a live take on “Romeo’s Tune,” recorded in November of 1979 at the Palladium in New York City), as well as new liner notes from David Wild.