“Saint Jude” represents a songwriting moment of clarity. Those come along now and then. “Bound to Be.” “Beautiful Land.” “In My Head.” “End of the Record Song.” Songs in which the laborious striving to get it right becomes effortless or, at least, is so focused and satisfying it winds up feeling like it was. “Saint Jude” also exemplifies how I most like to write. Songwriting by omission. Very specific details are shared, but the motivation behind them and the world surrounding them is not.

Dusty sidewalk, pocket change
Idle small talk, feeling strange

The song is based on a novel I’d just read called Father and Son which begins with a man returning to his hometown after a stint in prison to find that his girlfriend has taken up with his former best friend, now a police officer. The feeling of foreboding in the chords, words and melody of the song (hopefully) mirrors the feeling which permeates every sentence of the novel. It’s a literary ticking time bomb.

Do not go and rearrange your world.
That’s what I told you, girl.

And you just know, right away, that she did, in fact, go and rearrange her world. Then the chorus comes along to take the tension and churn it into slow movement – dark, complicated, and a little bit scary.

Saint Jude intercede on my behalf please
Looking for lost causes, none more lost than me
Set out for the promised land, wound up on my knees
Saint Jude, pray you intercede.

The second verse brings more details. A randomly remembered lesson from Catholic grade school. Money on the diner counter. A bowed head. A whispered prayer. A silent exit. But again – it’s the stuff that’s not there that matters most. Why is he praying? Where is he going? And why does it all feel so inevitable? The glimpse of vulnerability in the bridge seems to answer some of that:

All I asked of you
Was to wait and be true
All I ever wanted – taken from me

The violence comes in the guitar solo and the quiet it empties back into. Especially live, we try to build and build and build until it’s like the whole story falls off of a steep cliff. All that’s left is one final little cluster of details:

Rusty sunset, bloody car
Cigarette pack, door ajar
A final act beneath a million stars

Then fade to black.