“Don’t You Want to Be There” - Jackson Browne
Written by Jackson Browne
From The Naked Ride Home (Elektra, 2002)
This V-C-V first appeared in slightly different form on pcmunoz.com, June 14, 2005
In his speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Bruce Springsteen coined a fitting term to describe Browne’s music: “California Pop-Gospel”. I like that description quite a bit, because not only does it distinctly locate Browne as a Californian artist, it also acknowledges a kind of spiritual component to his work. Like his musical soul-brother Bob Marley, Jackson Browne has often urged us to consider the state of our spiritual selves as well as our connectedness to others, concerns that are usually addressed in the liturgical realm. The fact that he writes about these concerns with probing self-doubt (and often self-indictment) is significant, and in my mind a major reason why his many admirers have such a strong, emotional bond with his work.
“Don’t You Want to Be There” is primarily a meditation. Like a lot of Browne’s best work, it will break your heart, call you to reflection, and inspire you to hopeful action, all in the span of one listen. It opens with a simple enough invitation: “Don’t you want to be there / Don’t you want to go / Where the light is breaking / And the cold clear winds blow?” Around the middle, that invitation softly becomes an encouraging challenge: “Don’t you want to be there? / Don’t you want to cry / When you see how far you’ve got to go / To be where forgiveness rules / Instead of where you are?” The last line of the last verse then contains the most potent variation of the titular question, one that no listener can escape: “Don’t you want to be where there’s strength and love / In the place of fear?”