Human memory is a frail, rickety, idiosyncratic affair. We're not always in charge of what, or more importantly, how we remember things. For example, if someone hands me a home-made BLT sandwich, I'm instantly transported to my childhood, to my grandparents' kitchen and the big pile of BLTs that my aunts and uncle would make, in a production line, for lunch on the front porch.
Taste, smell, touch, these are senses that can raise a more powerful reaction than a proper, retained memory.
I've spent the last two days commuting to and from work with this song on repeat, listening to it over and over again, trying to get my head around it, to find a way to explain what this song does.
I think it's like a sensory trip-wire; the scent, taste or sound that drives flat-out to the very core of your being and sets off every alarm bell. It's like (guys, pay attention), sitting in a crowded train and suddenly smelling the perfume that a long-lost, long-missed girlfriend used to wear.
Being a guy, of course, you can't remember the name of the scent, but oh boy, do you ever remember the old girlfriend, the happy times, the longing that you're shocked to realise you still feel, and above all the emptiness that you briefly believe has been your fate ever since you dumped her.
Or rather, you *think* you remember. Only the picture isn't quite clear. Her face is blurred because, at this distance of time, you really can't exactly remember the shape of her nose or the curve of her chin.
You remember what it being with her was like, how she felt to hold. Or rather, you remember what being with her felt like to *you*, how holding her made you *feel*, because you really can't remember how, when you held her, your arms would rest on her narrow waist, and how you used to lock your fingers together behind her back.
That's what this song is like. It's the bare bones of a memory, something that feels so wispy and insubstantial, and yet is crammed chock-full of atmosphere and pin-sharp sensory memory.
It starts with the briefest hint of menace, fingers gently dragged over guitar strings with a hint of echo, before, with a slightly weary sigh, Matthews launches into the mystery.
"She's elusive and I'm awake,
You're finally real, there's nothing fake.
A mystery now to me and you,
Open my eyes and I'm next to you.
She said my destiny lies in the hands that set me free."
Even as he wakes up next to her, it's clear that she's not there to stay. She's always just out of reach, eluding our need to capture, pin down and pigeon-hole. She's like a memory that won't go away, yet won't come into focus.
"If it's true, then I am doomed,
What more is there to hold on to?
A strand of her hair is all I own;
A gift to me, this sorry soul."
You can almost sense the despair that's wrapped up in those words. Matthews' voice is worn, tired, his falsetto a wondrous combination of soaring hope and resignation.
I remember one of Sting's first singles after he left The Police was called "If You Love Someone, Set Them Free."
Well, what he didn't bargain for was that if we do let someone go, we can be imprisoned by a memory that fades and can never be fully recaptured, but that never fully disappears either.