Thursday, January 22, 2015
I am in a minority who feel that Robbie Robertson’s lyrics are not particularly cryptic, especially to a mature mind. “Chest Fever,” like many of Nick Drake’s tunes, is about dealers and dealing; more than that, it’s about the rigors of life as a dealer, and the potential obsolescence of such a life in the face of harsh, arbitrary circumstance. The protagonist of “Chest Fever” is not only a dealer, he also seems to be a spy; and the target of his espionage also happens to be woman who may be another dealer or a just a runner of contraband. What makes “Chest Fever” so compelling is that it captures a contradiction— this dealer protagonist is in the middle of a fateful confrontation, with both trackers and his female target, and yet the musical is so ecstatic, ethereal, and cathedral-like that it conveys an emotional impression of intense euphoria. This guy, in other words, (this is how I choose to take the contradiction) is high as a kite, even as he may die at any instant, and the revelation of his own death doesn’t scare him a bit. Like many of Robertson’s protagonists, his contradictions make him a compelling character, even as the music fills in the blanks of the euphoria he feels in denial of the situation transpiring around him.