As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. We’ll post the story behind the story for each song on 13 here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 13 weeks.
Here is the story behind A Man Needs a Home as related by Clark Hansbarger.
The song “A Man Needs a Home” (or Lost Love Songs: Part the First)
Sitting down to write this week’s entry, I realized that I have only two more songs to go, and they too are about failed love. In fact, six of my seven songs on 13 are about love, and four of those are about heartbreak! I’m a little embarrassed about this, actually. My life has been pretty blessed, and certainly not nearly as miserable as my songs might imply.
The band teases me some about this, as does my daughter. She calls me “The Sad Song Guy.” So, from here on, I vow to write no more syrupy love songs with tragic endings—at least for a while anyway. Instead, I’ve taken to writing Civil War songs. I’m on my six or seventh, though I fear the other Bitter Liberals have had just about enough of those, too. [ed: We would never admit to this, though it’s true.]
Consequently, for this week’s massive CD giveaway contest, I am soliciting suggestions for song subject matter. Please use the “Leave a Reply” space below to submit official song ideas. The most original (or most amusing and outrageous) song subject wins a free copy of 13. And don’t forget who’s judging this thing!
Anyway, enough of all that; on to the song.
“A Man Needs a Home” is another piece of short fiction. I’ve changed no names to protect the innocent here, mostly because the characters in the song don’t exist. In fact, in the song the characters don’t even have names. So what we have is the story of a simple man who falls for a complex woman—a tale all too common (according to most men anyway).
Structurally, “A Man Needs a Home” is a romantic melodrama in four acts. Each act moves the story forward in time and situation, while the chorus serves first to explain, then defend, the actions of our star-crossed protagonist.
He is a lost, lonely man; a nameless drifter with a vague, sad past who becomes infatuated not with the woman so much as with the idea that the woman has to offer: a hot meal, a long walk, a warm bed, and the illusion of home. Her domicile provides the man with a ledge to rest on before he resumes his preordained descent.
The problem is that the man is delusional. The man and the woman play house for a few weeks (and that is all); though the man feels much more. For him, the infatuation is real. He believes what he needs to believe. And because of this, he ends up heartbroken and on the road again.
The woman in the song is the complicated creature. She obviously did not get what she needed or wanted from the man (a tale we hear tell is common to most women). She was trying on a hat and the hat didn’t fit. But because the woman was so kind and generous to him, the man had no idea at all that he was just a hat.
You didn’t hear it from me, but men are simple animals: fools in wolf’s clothing.
Originally, “A Man Needs a Home” sprang from one cool line, “Got a jump outside of Stanton in a Walmart parking lot.” I jotted it down without knowing where the story was going. Lines like this pop up sometimes unexpectedly, and the trick is to write them down. They are attached to nothing, but they ring so true, that like a concentrated short story hook, they call out for context.
After a line like that, what could happen next? The man borrows cables, of course. The story stepped directly into the light when I wrote the line “from a woman about his age.” The couple flirt, start his car, head to a bar, and the romance begins.
The point of crisis comes in the next movement when the man shacks up with the woman. She has created an oasis of some stability and permanence. He is a transient man with “something gone.” She has a home and a flower garden.
The first chorus explains the beauty of it all. “A woman can give a man a home out of thin air and a heart. A warm meal when he’s all alone, a woman can give a man a home.” This is magic; both comfort and joy, and the man’s world is instantly set right. Or so it seems.
The trouble begins in the third movement. The initial scene is blissful—the sun is rising; she is tangled up in sheets. But when he catches a look she tries to hide, the end is revealed and apparent. Fortunately, the man has the dignity to leave at that point. Had he stuck around, he truly would have been a sap. Resigned to his fate, he heads back out on the road.
The problem is he can’t quite “move on” entirely. In the fourth act, a few weeks later, he calls her, seeking the connection again, and succumbs to further delusion. He needs to talk—to share his journey—and misreads her “quiet” listening on the other end of the line as interest and care. But when he tries to re-establish something that was never really there—when he proclaims his love out loud for all to hear—she reminds him that they were only playing house. She has already returned the hat.
I’ve heard women say that they were just “passing time” in relationships that appeared pretty serious. This is confusing to a man. Our egos are too large and too weak to fathom that a woman could treat us so well—be so warm and giving—but really just be waiting for someone else to come along. We can do that to them, but what an unfair thing when they do that to us!
Simple animals, all around.