Three Little Babes
'Take it off, take it off!', cried the eldest one
'Take it off, take it off!', cried she
'For i shan't stay here in this wicked world
When there’s a better one for me’
"Does Not Suffice" — Joanna Newsom
Along with songs like “Only Skin” and “Peach Plum Pear,” this song is one that is constantly encircling the discussion and appreciation of Joanna Newsom’s work. This occurs rightfully so for many reasons, such as its beauty, its build up, and the imagery that perfectly portrays a breakup. These aspects all interest me, but what I find the most striking about “Does Not Suffice” is Newsom’s ability to lay claims within the finality of this ending relationship and to seek identification within a sense of loss.
Have One On Me is a mammoth album. Newsom explores endless themes within the eighteen songs, but it is sometimes easiest to approach the album as the story of the beginning, middle, and ending of a relationship. Throughout the album, Newsom densely explores the various components of life that become associated with this progress, but she ends the album bare. “Does Not Suffice” spends a good amount of time naming, or claiming, the clothing of its protagonist and then putting them away to “hide from view.” This moment of packing one’s material possessions away, to prevent the other from recalling how “easy” the protagonist was not, has always struck me as a form of undressing.
The clothing stuffed away and the protagonist absent of her identifiable clothing is a standstill image—one that grants the listener, and the abandoned lover, with a “blank and rinsing gaze” upon something “caught in a barbed-wire fence.” In these moments, the protagonist becomes an image of absence, which is achieved through the abandonment of the relationship and the claiming of individual time and space. The protagonist announces what does not suffice for her in this setting, and then claims a space for her former lover. The spacious bed and burning shower become his, but the “unburdened hooks” and “empty drawers” are hers. Her presence in the space becomes nothingness, a reminder to the ending of what was once shared. The imagery is harsh, but becoming nothing may be the only method of moving on from an insufficient setting.
"Does Not Suffice" explores the complex dynamics of a breakup, and how absence is inevitable for both parties when the time to move on arises. Identification of possessions and space allows for both individuals to suffice as separate beings, but the song ends with a clear description of loss. As Newsom’s voice fades off as she sings "la, la, la," or as her protagonist walks away from her lover’s space, the song swells into its final imagery: the wordless chaos of absence. The piano peaks, and then the keys are smashed as the other instruments seep in at random to combat each other. But doesn’t this sonic expression become the testament of this loss? There are no words, no directions, no fluidity—just contrasting effects of two individuals whose only remaining link is the absence of each other.
The song’s ending offers no answers to the futures of either persons in the relationship; but I believe that this lack of explanation is what allows the song to be so effective. The instrumentation quivers off, and then the album ends. We can stop at this moment and see it as the final resting place of this relationship, or we can jump back into Have One On Me and allow its many beautiful moments of life to be seen as the process of moving on. And if most Joanna Newsom fans are like me, there is no way we could simply stop listening here—accepting the totality of this ending would not suffice.
Joanna Newsom - Jackrabbits
I’m squinting towards the East
My faith makes me a dope
But you can take my hand in the darkness, darling
Like a length of rope
I shaped up overnight, you know
The day after she died
When I saw my heart, and I tell you, darling
It was open wide