Song 158: Jens Lekman, “Your Arms Around Me” (2007)

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Writing a funny song without seeming like a jackass is a hard thing to do. In my opinion, aside from flat-out musical humorists like Weird Al (who I love), only a handful of writers can do it: They Might Be Giants, Aimee Mann, Warren Zevon, a few others. The trick, it seems, is to balance the humor with sadness (or is it the other way around?).

Jens Lekman can be uproariously funny, but his songs are like novellas, with characters (including, usually, some variation of himself in an embarrassing situation) who have distinct points of view. In “Your Arms Around Me,” the story starts sweetly and innocently: Jens and his partner are preparing for a trip to the sea, and Jens is slicing an avocado for their lunch. The first verse ends with the line “For a second my mind starts drifting/You put your arms around me,” and the second verse starts with “Blood spraying on the kitchen sink.” Jens has sliced off the tip of his index finger, all because his loved one has given him a surprise embrace.

Jens passes out and has a dream about being in a kangaroo’s pouch, and he wakes up at the hospital, where he takes his lover’s arm and puts it around himself again, even though that’s what got him in this mess in the first place. The line that closes out the second verse sums up the song very nicely: “What’s broken can always be fixed, what’s fixed will always be broken.” Love and pain work together, always. The thing that slices your finger is also the thing that gets you through the experience of slicing your finger.

OK, so this isn’t as funny as I think of it being. Maybe it’s the way he says “avocado,” or the image of tiny Jens Lekman bouncing around in a kangaroo’s pouch. Or the way he suddenly splatters blood over the song after the first chorus. Or maybe it’s how ingenious the whole thing is.

After you’ve listened to Lekman, check out this mashup (are the kids still calling them “mashups”?) of “Your Arms Around Me” and Jay-Z’s “Encore” (called, of course, “Put Your Arms Around the Encore”). It is sublime.

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