Joe Pug: Lock the Door Christina

I can’t believe I haven’t heard of Joe Pug before this week. I chanced across an EP of his (In the Meantime), and was incredibly moved by two of his songs. The one I’m sharing today is called Lock the Door Christina, and I’ve been singing or humming it nonstop for days.

I had “Ain’t No Man” by the Avett Brothers playing on my drive out to Valpo, but I was looping this song non-stop on the way home.

Pug’s lyrics are really incredible. There’s a lovely compact feel to his abstractions that don’t make them feel lazy, inhabiting a space somewhere between Bob Dylan and Kay Ryan’s poetry.

I love the first two refrains, but if I had to choose… I’d go with the second:

Who’s that by your front door
We all thought he died
Who’s that man knee deep in sand
Waiting on the tide
With an atlas and a ladder
Undaunted by the height

On my first few listens, I thought of this as a kind of love song. But the more attention I paid to the lyrics, I realized just how dark this song was. And the way I read it, this was very much not a love song.

The speaker lists a series of men, an arrival of suitors who wish to woo Christina. The speaker follows each description with the lines “Lock the door Christina / I’m standing on your porch tonight.”

My take on this is that the speaker thinks of himself as a kind of guard or protector. The assumption being, of course, that Christina needs protection, or needs anyone to protect her.

The last part of the song switches in tone, drastically. Starting with the lines “Who else…” the speaker starts to sound a little passive aggressive. The song changes for me with these lines:

Courageless but honest
My empty arms invite
Lock the door Christina
I’m standing on your porch tonight

The way I read this, the speaker is now another suitor for Christina’s affections. And with this change, the phrase “I’m standing on your porch tonight” becomes an entirely different statement. What once could have been the voice of a protector now comes across as a threat, as menacing.

Looking back at the description of the earlier suitors, they all sound like men worthy of attention. By the end of the song, it seems to me that Christina needs to be protected not from these other men, but from the speaker.

An interesting side note – in the few videos I’ve found of Pug performing this song live, the lyrics above are a little different. The live performances have these lines instead:

With convictions I can’t pay for
And habits I can’t fight
Lock the door Christina
I’m standing on your porch tonight

I think I do prefer the lyrics from the EP, as the word “courageless” pushes the interpretation that the speaker joins the list of men that Christina needs to be shielded from.

I’m really moved by the lyrics. To me, it’s an incredibly dark song because it comes across at first glance like a love song. But there is this slow realization that it’s not a love song. And that the only person who thinks it’s a love song is the speaker.

It’s about a man who thinks he knows what’s best for a woman. And he is wrong.

[Photo via Todd Roeth]

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