Red Right Ankle

"This is the story of [my] red right ankle and how it came to meet [my] leg..."

On Sunday I strolled down to the Y at 16th and Lincoln to play pick-up basketball with an old friend and several new ones. In the process of "pushing my limits," "going big or going home," and "crashing the boards" I very really "sacrificed the body" and rolled my ankle something fierce. This blog isn't about my personal shit though, it's about music, books, video, websites, and other sexy feats of human creation. Luckily, the injury gave me an inspiration to listen to, and to write about the Decemberists "Red Right Ankle" from Her Majesty.

Carefully assembled lyrically and musically, the song exists in a near-perfect ethereal state. Colin Meloy's voice is structured, wispier than on the bulk of Decemberist's tracks, and methodically paced. The song begins, as shown in the quote atop this post (with "your" in place of "my") with assembly. Physical assembly. Meloy sings, "And how the muscle, bone, and sinews tangle... And how the skin was softly shed." He constructs a beautiful connection, delicate, intricate. The ankle is a meeting point of seemingly gossamer fibers forging an important joint, a support, a connection, and a means of movement. The ankle is love. The ankle is a relationship, wound of minor experiences into a tapestry that is both ornate and precious. Complicated with detail, but dynamically simple. The ankle is love.

By personifying the ankle, Meloy makes it clear, "And how it whispered, 'Oh, adhere to me for we are bound by symmetry and whatever differences our lives have been we together make a limb'" with a lyric that is poetically complex, aware of time, space, and rhythm, and astutely shows love without blatancy.

Love songs (and specifically the positive ones... not songs of longing, love lost, etc.) are necessarily about completion. They establish the bond as revelatory and sustaining. The metaphor of the ankle, a joining of the leg and foot, is uniquely beautiful. The joint is both intricate and integral. What I've realized over the last couple days is how much my ankle is there, and how important its function is to daily life. A relationship can operate similarly, in the intricacy of emotion and interaction. And the way love is essential to, or at least influential on, happiness.

The song turns for a verse to discuss the paramour's uncle, the connection there, the function of age and imagination and the need to keep secrets. "And remember how you found the key to his hideout in the Pyrenees but you wanted to keep his secret safe so you threw the key away," sung by Meloy demonstrates a kind of innate love, one so unconditional that a secret of great importance goes unexploited. It's a love that trumps curiosity. And it's also a demonstration of the way we must sometimes cast away one love, in this case the key (the secret), for another -- compassion. In life, we must sometimes part with those we love not because they are no longer loved, but because we are meant for another path, we are meant to seek a new mystery.

"Red Right Ankle" then catalogues some of the loves who have come before, loved sweetly, loved harshly, loved lazily, leading on to broken hearts. Broken hearts, summed so ideally, so fucking precisely in another of Meloy's lyrics. "Some, they crawled their way into your heart to rend your ventricles apart." The words here are so accurate, so beautiful, and so real. It's a truly visceral description of the destruction in heartbreak. So brutal, the vulnerability we expose ourselves to by loving, when so often the result is a painful one.

Colin Meloy's lyrics, combined with a solid acoustic line peppered with sweet and bittersweet notes, give "Red Right Ankle" a full body and an unforgettably haunting quality. The melody is soft and I'm having trouble finding the words to describe it... which may well be the point of the song. Love begins in a physical construction. It exists inside emotionality, while simultaneously creating worlds, imaginations, and secrets all its own.

My ankle will heal itself in time, as the heart will when broken. Is this another minutia in Meloy's ultimate intent?


  1. dude, i really enjoyed this...

    it crossed my mind when we were discussing "chinese democracy" that you should write a cheeky and witty, while appreciative, review for it...

    because the david fricke review was kinda lame...