Marriage: it’s why we’re gathered here today. It only makes sense that the most common of lyrical subjects, love, would see its supposed apex, the wedding, represented time and time again in popular song. But two’s company, three’s a crowd and rarely is a wedding simply about just the folks getting hitched. Otherwise, why bother asking if anyone objects to the union?
At two bookend points of his career with the Replacements, Paul Westerberg tackled weddings from the perspective of a man in the audience who is an ex of the bride-to-be, and looking at the difference between how each narrator approaches the situation is a lesson in the growth of a man.
“You’re Getting Married,” a demo that officially surfaced on last year’s reissue of the 1982 EP Stink, is typical of songs like “If Only You Were Lonely,” “It’s Hard to Wave in Handcuffs” and other Westerberg demos that were often considered too sentimental for recording by the band. Heartache and resentment ring throughout the song’s lyrics as Westerberg insults the groom by calling the woman a “guitar in the hands of a man that just can’t play” and insisting that she’s missing out on something by calling her “a bird in a cage watching the flock fly on by” and “a flower in the dark / you ain’t never gonna bloom.” He ends the song with the plaintive plea “don’t you get married, no, no, no.” He seems petulant – he repeats the “guitar” line from earlier, only calling the man “some fool” this time – and full of the vinegar of a person still bleeding from emotional wounding.
“Nobody,” however, from 1990’s All Shook Down, is a more detached and observational look at a wedding the narrator thinks shouldn’t happen. The hints of his involvement are more subtle (“double takes / as they look my way”) and mostly he seems to be cataloging the proof that the bride isn’t ready for this. “Knees quake / there ain’t a shotgun in the place…your eyes can’t fake / still in love with nobody.” But the song slowly reveals its meaning as the identity of the owner of the “heartaches / on your wedding day” in the opening line becomes more ambiguous. What first seems like a simple statement of being unready for commitment (“[you’re] still in love with nobody”), develops into a hovering presence of lingering love when Westerberg reveals himself as the “nobody.” “Take a look on your wedding night / in your wedding book / see what name I signed.” He watches the bride and groom leave, but he knows he’s made his point.
The two songs share some lyrical similarities that make “You’re Getting Married” appear to be the impetus for “Nobody.” Both talk of the eyes of the bride giving away secrets, whether it’s “you say you’ll both be real happy / you forgot to tell your eyes” or “[you] said ‘I do,’ / honey, you’re just a kid / your eyes said ‘I did?'” But the wrought emotion of the former has given way to the tempered, passive-aggressive resignation of the latter. The narrator of “You’re Getting Married” is too close to the source, the incision too fresh; it’s almost a kick when he’s down to hear of his former love getting married. “Nobody”‘s man, however, seems to have the distance of time to help him, but he’s not totally above interfering all the same, leaving the cryptic signature in the wedding book; a “Kilroy was here” for dismissed lovers everywhere. It’s certainly more settled and grown up than the voice in “You’re Getting Married,” but only so much – the bride isn’t the only one who couldn’t fake their true emotions. And that sounds about right to me. words/ j neas