‘Avant Gardener’, Courtney Barnett’s song from last year, is a hazy, rolling treat. Along it bobs, buoyed on by it’s own lazy waves. Amid the lapping sounds, gently keening guitars, grumbling groundwork baseline, feedback scratching pleasantly at its back, Barnett tells the tale of her day. As days go it’s not one of the best despite a decent start. She wakes in the morning, has a lie-in (“oh what a wonder, oh what a waste”). It’s hot, she’s bored and, casting around for something to do, she gets into a conversation with her neighbour about flowerbeds. Daydreaming about growing veggies she starts to tidy up her own garden when things start to take a turn for the worse.
It’s a mundane enough setting for a song. Suburban, with all the comfort we fancy that implies after childhoods infused by Tom Hanks comedies and barbecues with the Neighbours. The spiky triumph of the track is the way Barnett manages to find the universal existential crisis at the heart of a specific medical one. The last line, repeated before the song’s groove begins to wind down (“I’m not that good at breathing in”) is delivered to make the most of the double meaning their singer has worked cleverly to win. ‘I know the feeling’ we think when we hear them.
Much earlier, back in the first verse, as she’s taking the potentially fateful decision to get her hands dirty, she sings “Life’s getting hard in here, so i do some gardening. Anything to take my mind away from where it’s s’posed to be”.
I must have listened to this song a hundred times since last year. This morning, hearing it for the hundred and first, it occurred to me for the very first time that what she means is that she really should be thinking about something else she’s supposed to find more important. Perhaps work, money, chores she’s supposed to be doing, people she’s supposed to be loving. I guess it’s possible that at some stage she she’ll go through a period when she realises that sometimes it’s better just to spend time standing staring in your garden on a warm Summer’s day rather than worrying about other things.
I may have been through that period when bliss is possible. I may be on my way there. I hope so. For the first hundred times I listened to ‘Avant Gardener’ I took this line to mean that she was happy to have her mind taken away from the inevitability of death, a subject she considered ‘where it’s s’posed to be’.
Courtney Barnett is currently 26. I am currently 43.