This song has a particular resonance for me because it was the first to be written of all my album songs. Actually, I guess that depends on how you measure it – it wasn’t the first to be finished by any means, but it was the first idea to blossom and then to get to the stage of having draft lyrics and melody. Then it sat on hold for several years. I’m so glad to see it finally coming out now!
I was originally inspired by the language used in jazz standards such as Bewitched, bothered and bewildered and Misty, songs that deal with the transformative nature of love. I wanted to describe a life that was drab, colourless and flat – but not perceived as such until the world was changed forever and every sense brought to life with the realisation of love.
This is another song that has given rise to some confused questions about how it relates to my own life. After Labour of love, which is so clearly drawn from my life, I can understand the confusion! But despite being written in the first person, this song isn’t about me – or at least, not in terms of the actual storyline. For me, it is a celebration of the need for a balance between order and chaos in every life.
This song has been with me for so long that it has a more fully realised story than some of the others. Probably I should let you listen and come up with your own interpretation. But in this case, I can’t resist telling you the story that has grown around this song for me.
It’s the story of a woman who lives a calm, ordered life, and has always enjoyed the serenity of knowing what to expect at every turn. But one day, into her orbit comes a person who trails chaos and excitement behind them like a swirling cloak. And as she sees the way that this person soars through life, bouncing from one joyful idea to the next with no thoughts for structure or routine, she is suddenly smitten. Her own life seems to be dull and stale in comparison, and suddenly she sees how it could come alive with a little bit of spontaneity and passion.
Part of her yearns to live in the exciting wake of this charismatic person who has changed her perception of life. But deep inside she knows that she needs moments of stillness and peace to recharge. They are too different – to be confronted daily with this degree of spontaneity would become an assault.
But now that she has awoken to the possibility of change, it sings in her ears at every turn. Gradually she makes small changes in her life, changes that allow her to be less rigid and to give in to creative impulses now and then. She doesn’t wear herself out in relentless longing for the person who changed her life, but is thankful forever for that shock of transformative realisation.
I like happy endings, so I like to imagine that she joins a mosaic-making class. Her organisational skills and love of order stand her in good stead, and her newfound passion for creativity leads her to make glorious, colourful designs that become locally sought after. She meets a fellow mosaic-maker and they have a quietly passionate life together…
So, that could be the story behind the song. But most importantly, I think When I see you celebrates both a love of order (that sense of satisfaction in crossing items off a list, in working steadily through a job and seeing it all completed) and of spontaneity and creativity, of leaping to catch ideas that seem to fall from the sky and that sound so crazy you can hardly put them into words. If life ever seems a little drab and pale, or a bit too terrifyingly unplanned, ask yourself: are your order and chaos levels in balance?
I’d like to finish with some words of gratitude. This song was the most difficult to get right – perhaps because I had had the early version in my head for so long. Chris Ellis, Kerry Medd and songwriting coach Keppie Coutts all listened to and critiqued this song, for which I’m extremely grateful. I’ve also been hugely supported in the whole album process by three people in particular: my husband Hugh, and my friends Bonnie and Greg. They have listened to and commented on multiple versions of this song (and many others), played and sung in recordings, helped with filming and editing, and have helped to make the creative process a joy to navigate. My heartfelt thanks to all of you.