WRITTEN BY Richard Thompson
PERFORMED BY Richard Thompson
APPEARS ON Rumor and Sigh (1991); Watching the Dark (1993)
Richard Thompson's triple-threat combination of literate songwriting, expert guitar playing, and impassioned singing have made him one of rock's most respected performers. Though his melodies are rooted in English folk music, Thompson's lyrics often reflect modern conflicts and existentialist dilemmas. Other songs, such as his masterpiece "From Galway to Graceland," grace us with exquisite simplicity and tenderness.
A great breakup song, "Keep Your Distance" combines highly literate lyrics ("sweeping out the footprints where I strayed") with terrific folk-rock hooks to look back on relationship that imploded under the pressures of its own intensity. The singer fears any contact with a former lover because involvement with that person cost both of them "our souls, our lives," far too great a price in Thompson's estimation. Love, after all, should lead to one's best self, not consign it to oblivion ("what can I do but fall").
But what of the enigmatic final line: "With us it must be all or none at all." While the thrust of the song leads to the conclusion that "none at all" is preferable, Thompson remains tempted and intrigued by the possibilities of "all." Even though he knows that that is a "desperate game," the chance that he might succumb to its lures are enough to warn his lover to "keep your distance." Because in the end, he knows that -- if she doesn't -- he will fall. Which raises the question: Why is the onus on her to keep distance between them? Maybe because he knows that he's incapable of doing so on his own.
If I cross your path againWho know where? Who knows when?On some morning without numberOn some highway without endDon't grasp my hand and say"Fate has brought you here today"Fate is only fooling with us, friendKeep your distance, oh, keep your distanceWhen I feel you close to me what can I do but fall?Keep your distance, keep your distanceWith us it must be all or none at allIt's a desperate game we playThrow our souls, our lives, awayWounds that can't be mendedAnd debts that can't be paidOh I played and I got stungNow I'm biting back my tongueAnd sweeping out the footprints where I strayedKeep your distance, oh, keep your distanceWhen I feel you close to me what can I do but fall?Keep your distance, keep your distanceWith us it must be all or none at allKeep your distance, oh, keep your distanceWhen I feel you close to me what can I do but fall?Keep your distance, keep your distanceWith us it must be all or none at allWith us it must be all or none at allWith us it must be all or none at all
Note: That's Shawn Colvin on backing vocals and rhythm guitar. Also, the hum fades out as soon as the music starts.