Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas wrote If You're Gone after meeting his future wife:
"We were separated for a few weeks and were on the phone all the time, and I was thinking, 'I met this wonderful person,' and I wondered if everything I was going through [with Matchbox Twenty's success] was going to make it too crazy to build a relationship." (Billboard Magazine, April 1, 2000)
Thomas took the uncertainty of the music industry and the wonderfully chaotic times he was experiencing with the band and coupled that with the prospects of bringing a new relationship into the mix to write what would become the group's second most successful song. This comes as no surprise. The angst, uncertainty and hopefulness are displayed expertly in both the writing and performing of the song.
While most acknowledge that, Thomas' motives aside, the song's overall milieu' is the landscape of a rocky relationship. At the very least, a relationship which has hit a turbulent spot. This is a large draw for music consumers, as well as the general populace. We define and measure ourselves largely by our capacity to recognize, experience and downright handle love. It is, it seems, our collective destiny.
We become desperate, then, when that love, which has defined, carried, coddled and completed us is swept away. It matters very little how the tear happens. We become devastated. Without purpose. We pace in circles and talk to ourselves. We bargain with the universe and ask friends, family - even random strangers for advice - hoping that just one of them will have the magical combination of words that will overcome our shortcomings or rewrite our wrongdoings. The only relief that's offered is a muddled combination of cliches' which involves a mystical period of time and some measure of forgetting.
It is to this that If You're Gone speaks for most listeners. We can relate to this angst. We feel Thomas' pain. We've been there. We've been part of that conversation. Now, Thomas asks us to relive it, not alone, but together - to share the experience with him - and hopefully become stronger as a result.
The first verse outlines very well the preliminary feeling most of us have felt when the end of a relationship is inevitable. He, like most of us who really push ourselves to feel emotions, senses the end... feels a sense of finality in the conversation. You're flexing your jaw muscles... you feel it, yes? That moment comes without warning, although we recognize it immediately and without fail. The conversation is moving back and forth, teetering somewhere between reconciliation and breakup when both voices grow quiet. The look behind both partners eyes is a mixture of relief and terror as they gaze at each other in the deafening silence that follows.
In the stillness of that single moment in time, two hearts begin to break...
It is here, in this single moment of undefined pain, that Thomas sets the stage. His voice drifts over the single guitar intro and wafts through the air:
I think I've already lost you.I think you're already gone.I think I'm finally scared now;You think I'm weak,I think you're wrong. (V1, L1-5)It is the moment described above. The realization that it's done - the storm of confusion and pain begins to gather strength as, for the first time, we are forced to think of a future without this person who seemed moments ago to be a solid part of our plans. As reality sets in, so does the fear, crowding out hope and leaving desperation in its wake. Perceptions are distorted in the way water distorts light. Thoughts race with the precision of a NASA computer and we speak in that rattled, high-pitched whisper only the heart-broken can manage. It is at this point Thomas continues:
I think you're already leavin'.Feels like your hand is on the door.I thought this place was an empire;And now I'm relaxed, and I can't be sure. (V1, L6-9)
Another shock to the system as we realize the situation may be impossible to save. Footfalls echo in slow motion toward a future apart. The 'empire' created by two people is collapsing into two separate villages. In the moment, when tempers are relaxed and cooler heads prevail, it is finally clear that this may be the end.
Finally, the anguished cry of the truly broken:
But I think you're so mean,I think we should try.I think I could need this in my life.And I think I'm scared, I think too much.I know it's wrong, it's a problem I'm dealing... (V1, L10-14)
Still, the artist looks longingly at the figure standing in the doorway - a beautiful silhouette shadowed against the brightness of the future - and cries out for another chance to make it right:
If you're gone maybe it's time to come home,There's an awful lot of breathin' room, but I can hardly move.And if you're gone, baby, you need to come home,'Cause there's a little bit of something me in everything you do. (Chorus)
The impassioned cry to stop and think. We are privy to the scene we all work hard to avoid: the pleadings of the love-lorn. It is here where we are prepared to throw away our pride and dignity - standing emotionally naked and vulnerable, we cry out to them to come back to the relationship. Our soul sees a bleak future without the love created in the sharing of lives.
Our heads bow to hide the tears as the sound of a door closing echos in the stillness. Our future is painted in black and gray as we contemplate the difficulties ahead:
I bet you're hard to get over... I bet the room just won't shine.I bet my hands I can stay here, and I bet you need more than you mind. (V2, L1-4)It's this point where we see the artist's realization of the road ahead. The hardship of moving on, the bargaining with the loved-one: betting everything that it could still work, he cries out again and again for them to 'come home'. The song closes with repetitions of the chorus.
This scene might have lasted for weeks, days or minutes. The agony might pass quickly or may settle in for years. The scars could be superficial or life changing wounds.
We aren't given insight as to where the couple ends up. Ultimately, the resolution isn't the point of the prose. The journey through this dark chasm is meant to enlighten us in our own quest for love and the relationships that define us.
The moments of finality in our lives: leaving one career for another, leaving home for the first time, beginning a new life in a new city... these junctures leave an enduring imprint on our soul. In these crossroads of life we begin to grow and become the person we are destined to be. Take these opportunities to grow - sadness ends - angst alleviates - we are left with endless possibilities for learning about ourselves and the world around us...
"If a man neglects education he walks lame to the end of his life." - Plato