Would You Use It To Hurt Me? – Julia Jacklin’s Bruising ‘Body’

Julia Jacklin’s album Crushing is out on February 22nd and it opens with a song that has been circulating since last October called ‘Body’. In a feature on ‘Body’ on NPR’s All Songs Considered, Jacklin described the song as “a long and exaggerated sigh”.

‘Body’ tells a story in the second person. The protagonist addresses an ex-boyfriend and explains how and why she left him. Her ex ruined a trip by getting arrested and it sounds like a last straw. She is tired of his self-regarding fecklessness: “I know you’d like to believe it, baby / But you’re more kid than criminal.” He is “just a boy who could not get through a domestic flight / without lighting up in the restroom“.

The arrangement here as throughout the song is sparse. There’s a snare drum partnering an insistent andante 1-2 bass line (boom, boom-boom; boom, boom-boom) and rumbling piano chords every second bar or so. The piano is like way-off thunder. There’s a guitar but there is no strumming of full chords. The atmosphere is taut and tense.

As she leaves the narrator sings of “heading to the city to get my body back” – reclaiming herself. But she imagines his response to her leaving. She anticipates vengeful violent spite. This guy is not used to facing consequences. Even when the police came to the plane, “They let you finish your meal”.

She foresees reprisals, and she recalls an old imposed intimacy that leaves her exposed. She sings “I remembered early days / When you took my camera / Turned to me, twenty-three / Naked on your bed / Looking straight at you“. Of course he took her camera; she didn’t offer it. She asks him: “Do you still have that photograph? / Would you use it to hurt me?” Then an exhalation: “Well I guess it’s just my life / And it’s just my body“.

It took me a few days of listening a lot to ‘Body’ to begin to understand how the song’s tension is attained and sustained. For the first half of the song the chords dissolve slowly into each other and they progress between A minor, D major, F major, and back to A minor. Anyone who has played an instrument knows that D major doesn’t belong there. A minor and F major are in the same key, of C, and D major is in the key of D. That D major sounds dissonant. It evokes unease, like there’s something hanging unresolved and disquieting over the verses.

Then as the song closes, Jacklin repeats the final couplet four more times. She’s accompanied by the guitar and bass and an organ that plays flurries of notes in A minor, F major, C major, and F major. These chords all go together in the key of C and coming from the previous dissonance this sounds right. It sounds complete and final. So the song is resolved at its most resigned moment: I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body.

I first thought “seething” described this song but I was projecting. Anger here is an affectation. You naturally want justice but that’s no guarantee of getting any. The song does not have the energy to be angry. The song has too much experience to be optimistic. The protagonist leaves a guy because he is proudly careless and destructive and now his careless destructiveness hangs over her. He doesn’t deserve power but he won’t let it go. It’s hard to tolerate the song concluding so full of lingering indefinite dread. He’s just a kid, but this is criminal.

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