“Careless” by Neil Finn and Paul Kelly

115. Song No. 1,635: “Careless,” Neil Finn and Paul Kelly
Goin’ Your Way, 2013
(orig. by Paul Kelly, 1989)

Like a lot of musical outfits I loved hard for a dedicated period of time then gradually moved away from for no reason other than branching out and evolving taste, finding out there’s a Neil Finn recording in the world that I do not have in my greedy little paws is one of those things that will always subvert my terminally procrastinatory tendencies and launch me right into doing a thing, as evidenced by how quickly I snatched up this previously unknown-to-me live album as soon as I met it.

And, like… live Neil Finn/Crowded House is always a treat, but this album is just as much Paul Kelly’s songs, too, which were all unfamiliar to me until a shockingly few rotations was all it took for new favorites to emerge.

“Careless” didn’t so much immediately assert itself like some songs do; it, like certain others, was a moment of a lyric caught the right way at the right time to facilitate that “oh shiiiiiit” of self-recognition at that moment when you absolutely don’t want it, like when someone’s musically detailing the myriad ways one human can repeatedly fail another who won’t give up on them and the leveling cocktail of humility and resignation that inevitably trails behind.

The thing about these songs that know you need to hear them is that they’re patient. They know they have the line that’ll hook you, but they’re also fully aware that you have to be in the right place to hear it like you need to. These kinds of songs are also smart like that.

I absolutely fell in love with this song despite the things about myself it made me confront: no, you can’t just freeze people out without explanation; no, you don’t get to act like you’re alone in your own personal hell when there are some amazing people standing right in front of you trying to get through your frozen-over lake; no, you don’t get to act like they owe you more than the incredible lengths they’ve already gone to to be patient with your impenetrable and infuriating bullshit; no, you absofuckinglutely do not get to add to the stigma of mental illness by acting like your manageable issues are other people’s responsibility just because you can’t be arsed to be proactive with handling your damage.

What added to that impact is the unexpected tonal shifts between this considerably evolved live version and its studio incarnation from nearly a quarter-century earlier. I prefer the fuzz and imperfection and growth and life shifts that impose themselves on a live song to their much cleaner recorded origins in general, but never to the exclusion of the latter: Both versions have their place in the artist’s catalogue, musical history and personal landscapes. But sometimes a live interpretation winds up nowhere near where it started and it’s a visceral shock, and, for me, “Careless” is one of those songs. I could not believe, despite perfectly fitting the lyrics, how sorrowful the song sounded when Spotify introduced me to the ’89 original, but mostly because I was jealous Paul Kelly wrote something that so perfectly fits two different narratives with just a little tweak to the tone and its mood.

“Careless” could have so easily been another song that’s hard to revisit because it hits too close, but I think its context help ease that sting in a serious way. It’s moments like falling in love with this song that make this album such a delightful experience overall, even when the songs drift into headier spaces. Like, who goes into buying a double-disc live recording that’s only half made of the artist you bought it for and comes out of it with a little bit of unexpected therapy AND a new way to look at the power of good storytelling? Plus, it got me into Paul Kelly and his staggeringly impressive oeuvre, and what else really matters when you find a new musician to love who also somehow dispatched the catalyst of change you’d need decades later when you were barely school-age?

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