Thing a Week 28 – When You Go

By JoCo April 7, 2006

The creative process is a funny thing. This week I was convinced that I was completely out of songs, that I would never write again, that all the ideas in my head were really just the same lame idea that I’d been using over and over again all along. And I had this piece of something, I knew it was a sad song because I was feeling frustrated and blocked and that’s when the sad ones usually come. I hated it, but I kept smashing it against the wall because I didn’t have any other options and it was Thursday morning already, and I have Paying Subscribers for goodness sake. But then something shook loose and by 3 PM I had a new song. Where did it come from? Why did it take all week to show up? Why can’t I remember how it feels to write when I’m trying to do it and can’t? After 28 of these you’d think I would have found the magic button in my brain that makes a song happen. Still looking.

Anyway, this is an a cappella breakup song (not necessarily about the end of a romance). It didn’t start out a cappella, but there were so many vocals that I decided to take all the instruments away and I liked how it sounded enough to finish it up that way. You don’t hear a lot of really sad a cappella songs, they’re mostly about putting limes in coconuts and zombie jamborees and that sort of thing. At least that’s how we did it at Yale. Ahem. Full disclosure: it is almost certainly a distant relative of Todd Rundgren’s “Pretending to Care.” Also, I realized too late that I had stolen a little chord change/melody line thing from a Jim Boggia song. I hope he either doesn’t mind or doesn’t notice.

When You Go

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Blake says

You know, you should have writer's block more often. This piece is stirring. This isn't the kind of song I expected, but its really good. You should definately do songs like this every so often, it shows your range and depth. Can't wait for next week!

Len says

The accapella reminds me a lot of the begining of Kenny Loggins' "I'm All Right" from Caddyshack. I hope that's not an insult. I love the new song!

Pete says

Jonathan, I remember going through this exact same ordeal a few years back. I ended up with Media Ogre.

George says

Speaking of showing your range and depth, you should write a song about the number e. When people talk about transcendental numbers, pi always hogs the spotlight, and it's about time for e to get a chance to shine.

Dave says

Thank you for putting the direct mp3 link back on the site. Although I'm a subscriber, I prefer to download it from here to keep the Podcasts section of my Library clean for the files I haven't listened to yet. I had to download Madaleine from the Feedburner page.

Nice song. I'm a sucker for those harmonies...

Michael says

My word. Removing the instruments here is like banishing distractions from an intimate conversation. (Oddly enough, inapropos though it may seem, I have a flashback to Exodus 3:5: "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.")

The result sounds the way a goodbye caress feels.

Michael says

"...the same lame idea that I’d been using over and over again all along."

You got that right. "The Town Crotch," "Stroller Town," "Podsafe Christmas Song," "Ikea," "Furry Old Lobster," "Womb with a View" ... nothing but the same tired, rehashed concept, ad infinitum.

[rear head slap] Sheesh.

Michael says

A "sad song" ... yes, but instead of the ironic sadness of "Shop Vac" or "Betty and Me," it's a bittersweet sadness, with as much sweet as bitter. Again, like a caress--including one's reluctance to forget it, despite all the pain that it bespeaks.

Jeff H says

Man, been there, done that. I had someone leave me while I was still deeply in love with him. It took me months to get over him. I thought of I how I was feeling at that point in my life while listening to this and I actually started crying a little. Good work. The acapella arrangement gives it a lot power, actually.

BadServo says

This is completely unrelated to TAW, but I was reading "Areas of My Expertise " earlier and noted the name "Jonathan Willian Coulton, the Colchester Kid" in the 700 Hobo Names section.

While an obvious nod to everyone's favorite troubadour, I was curious if the you really did bear a middle name? I've seen no references to "William" previously, and it should be added to ye olde wikipedia if this is accurate.

Just curious. It's always fun seperating Hodgeman's carefully intorven bits of fact and fiction.

TAW is great as always.

Ian says

Holy smokes, Jon.. that's... really really good.

I just went through a pretty strong spate of self-doubt myself, recently, so I know precisely where your head was at with your comments above. This song shows you're much more than a funnyman with an odd sense of humour, you're a wonderful songwriter.

Someone tell the BNLs to do a cover of this puppy.

Katie says

Lovely, lovely, lovely. As a former Yale a capella girl myself (and an honorary 'wink), this makes me wish we'd had a lot more songs like this and a lot less songs about coconuts. I've been spreading the Gospel of Coulton to all recently and hope I can make it to a live show soon!

JoCo says

Middle name = William. Hodgman sometimes tells the truth...

Pete says

I've figured out what the vocals remind me of, at last: The Flying Pickets version of "Only You".

kp says

Another beautiful song. And to think that I felt bad when you were only better than me at drumming. ;-)

As you know, I've been spreading the word of JC far and wide, and one musically savvy friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, but who could be easily hunted down at, said that while it seems that you're talented, he didn't want to have to work so hard to enjoy the songs.

I never understood what he meant until hearing this track. I'm a massive lyrics geek, but the bah-bah and oompah stuff totally drowned out the primary vocal for me. Might be my powerbook, might be my ears, but I haven't had trouble with any of the other tracks. Maybe you might dial back a bit on that background jazz? (And keep those jazz hands in your pockets!) ;-)


Jason says

Wow, spectacular song. REALLY highlights your range as a songwriter. I really wasn't expecting this style at all but I love it. Definitely works as a capella. Others have said it already, more intimate and has more impact than it would with instruments.

Erik says

This is a great song--I can definitely relate.

JoCo says

kp: hmm, I listened again but it sounds pretty well-balanced to me. Though all bets are off if you're listening through powerbook speakers - might as well be overhearing someone's earbuds...

Hockeyrink says

I was rushing to get out of the office the other day. My iPodder was in the middle of grabbing "when you go" and I almost stopped it, but am glad I didn't.

You see, my wife's mother just finally passed away after 2.5 years fighting with Ovarian cancer. As I played the song back while driving, it struck me how well it suited what my father in law was going through.

A break-up song? Are you sure? I have tears all over the place that say otherwise...

JoCo says

Hockey: An astute observation - I labelled it a breakup song because that's the easy way to describe it, but as I was writing I was thinking less about a romantic breakup and more about leaving and endings in general - something like your situation, or maybe the inevitable growing up that I hear all children do eventually...

Mary says

Oh, my goodness. This is an absolutely lovely song. JC, when I keep recommending you to other people, I try to soft pedal the elements most people talk about -- odd subject matter, witty lyrics, inspired rhyme, yadda. Yes, you bring all that to the table, but you also have a great gift for melody and a sweet and supple voice that does justice to both the song's melodic range and the emotional impact of the lyrics.

Sorry, I don't usually gush here, but you deserve it. I'll say something smartass and carefully distanced next time.

Ben says

wow. really good. i mean really really really good. Just found the site today, and am impressed. 'Breakup songs' tend to be some of my favorite music, and my girlfriend wonders how i manage to love these songs when im pretty much always in a good mood.

Amanda says

This is really gorgeous... I adore your voice and everything you put out, but this song is different. It's really beautiful in a bittersweet way. Nice job.

And also, "all the ideas in my head were really just the same lame idea that I’d been using over and over again all along" is totally erroneous and makes me sad that you think that... Your stuff is some of the most original stuff and I love it! Don't be down on yourself, Jon!! I'd give you a hug, but this pesky computer screen is in the way... Ah well. It's the thought that counts.

Bob says

I'm hockeyrink's(Dave) father-in-law whom lost his wife of over thirty-nine years. When Dave played us When You Go I wasn't sure if I was to drown in tears or die from dehydration, it struck me right in the heart. I'm sure Kleenex stock took an immediate jump in value. You have made me a J.C. fan, a million thank-yous, Bob.

airship says

Jonathan, I admit I'm not a frequent visitor, but I had posted on my site about 'Flickr' back around the holidays, and was reading back through my old posts, which inspired me to come back to listen to 'Flickr' again. And once again it made me happy to be a member of the human race, something which doesn't happen to me much these days.
Then I read through a few of your new posts and found this song. Like Bob above, I lost my wife of 29 years not quite two years ago. The anniversary of her death is coming up, and it amazes me how much loss I feel, still. But your song somehow helps. It captures that feeling of loss and the contrasting feeling of happy memories just perfectly.
Thank you.

Roger Reynolds says

Great music. I discovered your music on the 101 Things To Do With Baby Wipes podcast. I have a radio show and I already played the Podsafe Christmas Song on the air as a lark. It's also in the permanent Christmas collection if that's OK.

Hopefully you'll have a bump in traffic to your website, what with both of my listeners visiting and all...:-)

Kodamakitty says

I am hoping that you get e-mails when new comments get added, but I only recently came to this site and decided I needed to start from the beginning and work my way through all of the podcasts.

I am sure you are already familiar, but your amazing range and ability very much remind me of Yoko Kanno, most notably of "Cowboy Bebop." She has a beautiful jazzy breakup tune called, "Adieu." A Google search will yield many results for the song, if you have not heard it.

Anyway, I just wanted to express my own sentimental affection for this song. It just resonates with me and I admire your ability to bring it into being, as well as your humility in how it came about. I think the wonder you express about the creative process is the "magic button" that makes songs happen.


Janice says

You have a way with imagery. The heart folded up small and carried off... I was very moved by this song. Thought of my mother, whose long illness and inevitable passing makes me wonder what will become of my heart when she goes.

Leigh Ann says

Yeah, thanks, I cried for the last hour because of this song. Beautiful. But I am flipping you the bird through the power of the internet.

VaporLock says

Well just damn. I stumble onto Thing-a-Week after its all done and cashed in. Is that justice? Well, I've never been a whiner, and better late than never, I guess.

Shades of Jacques Brel, man! Jonathan, you should do this one in French. This song took me right back to a 70s college romance. We were madly, deeply, and forever in love. She was way too intellectual, crazy moody, and insisted on in dressing all in melancholy black…all the freakin’ time. (Come to think of it, a couple of your other songs remind me of her too.) It was then that a friend and I developed what would, from that point onward, be our number one imperative concerning all future relationships: Never get involved with anyone more screwed up than you are. I survived.

Back in the real world, my IT manager wanted to know why the hell his bandwidth was taking hits all day today. I forwarded Code Monkey to him and all was forgiven. Go figure.

Contribution coming soon. (I’m not just saying that.)

Carry on. Please.

Kaa says

Damn. Just...damn.

I found your site through a podcast called Escape Pod which played your song Skullcrusher Mountain. I came to get it, found others that I liked, and have been listening to them all. This one is by far my favorite. You have a fantastic voice, and I think the individual tracks of all the parts of this song are proof of that, as if that were needed.

I seriously hope you get email when someone posts a new comment. :)

I hope you come perform in Atlanta. I'd evangelize about you to ALL my friends (have already done so on my LiveJournal account--and found out they all already knew about you because of Code Monkey!). :)

Steve says

You know, I was listening to this on my cheap little eMac speakers, and the "ba-ba" part at the beginning has a wierd 3-D when I sit close. I don't know what you did or if you did it on purpose, but it's sounds cool.

It's a good song, too

Michael M. Butler says

Yeah, sure, there's Rundgren in there, but I hear Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman too, and probably some Van Dyke Parks.

Not bad company.

Thanks, man. I need a lifeline these days and this body of work of yours is making a difference in my life.

All best, always. Money will follow when I get it a little more together.

dukerayburn says

Hey, just dove into TaW as I reorganize my music library (using iTunes for data purposes, not for music at the moment) and I'm completely addicted, just like I was to Ze when I joined The Show in month two. I'm a member at, and I was planning on using my downloads there to pick up some of your TaW songs this month, creating my own greatest hits of sorts.

And this song...damn, this song is currently at the top of that list. I know I'm only a little way over halfway through, but honestly this piece is just stirring and beautiful. Congratulations on being blessed with the ability to make something like this, it's simply profound.

William says

Wow...I can really relate to this song, it's heartbreaking and absolutely amazing.

Kodak says

Having heard a few songs like "Code Monkey" and "Re: Your Brains" for a while, I finally got around to listening to the rest of the TAW music, and this is one of the songs that has become a favorite. When I first heard it I heard a breakup song, but while listening to it walking from class one day I got a very clear image of someone singing this to the memory of a loved one who had died - so I'm not surprised to look up there and see Bob and Airship's stories - now this is the only perspective I hear the song from, and it has gone from melancholy to absolutely heartrending. I love it, even if I tear up a little bit listening to it.

Sig says

Wow, I've been listening to it for months and every time it still hits like a force. The "tearing off pieces of myself, just for the time it buys me" lyric is just...haunting. I can't hear that and think it's a romantic breakup, I just can't, even metaphorically. But of course, I bring my own baggage.

This is a perfectly powerful, evocative piece that isn't sappy, isn't cloying, isn't artificial. There are some days I just need to listen to it, some days I simply can't. Just a fantastic piece of work.

Athena says

Ditto to all the praise that others have written for this song. It has moved me to tears (I watched the hedgehog video) and moved me to buy TAW 3.


BTW I really appreciate your approach to publishing and selling your music.

Brie says


I really need to stop listening to this song at work -- I get misty-eyed every damn time I hear it. Very nice. Thanks for performing it at the Portland show.

miley (hannah montana) says

Ditto to all the praise that others have written for this song. It has moved me to tears (I watched the hedgehog video) and moved me to buy TAW 3.


BTW I really appreciate your approach to publishing and selling your music.

i think that

Melanie says

The first time I heard this was at the Portland show in April, and it ripped me up then; I have a fourteen-year-old, and the lyrics instantly hit me as the way I'll feel when she leaves. I still have time with the nine-year-old, but fourteen is getting a little too close to college for comfort.
ANYWAY. This song is my current favorite, even if it does rip my heart out.

myself says

breaking my heart.....
I love this song and I hate it (merely because I've got streams of tears down my face, the song is relating to me at the moment)
excellent work
wonderful range in talent

Derek says

This song is a testament to your enormous talent and range. How the same person can write this and "Re Your Brains" I don't know, but keep doing it.


upss!!! kreo ke soy la unika mexicana de todos pero no importa esta kancion es genial aunke no logro entender lo ke dicen los demas no importa ke krean ke soy u na amiga bye....... son super

Shannon Townsend says

As I work my way through your music and discover all of the little corners and alleyways and hidden nooks of your songs, I still find myself loving this one more than any of the others. It's a beautiful little slice of magic.

Heather Jackson says

Like Hockeyrink commented early in the project... this song speaks to endings of all sorts. I hear the bittersweet loss of my father here... he died in a car accident, and had he survived, he would not have been the same man... but how does a child ever get over that kind of loss? And so he took a part of me with him when he went...

Isn't that the nature of loving someone? You give them the better parts of yourself, and if you're lucky, they give you the better parts of themselves, and together, you become better people for knowing each other.

This is why we love JoCo. :D

Topher D. says

JoCo, I'm going to find some $$$s to throw at you. I was just recently introduced to your music after finding a new job after a layoff... so first, your music is what I've been looking for forever.

Second, I'd like to echo the sentiment made by Heather just above. My father, too, was taken in an auto accident almost two years back. I can relate how this song can relate to that kind of loss. It's almost inevitable that we will see our parents them pass from this life before we pass, and the message that "No way to make it up now no room for regret" is more poignant for those who lost their love ones in such a manner.

Thank you.

Jeremy Nickurak says

A bit late to the party. This has been one of my favorite JoCo songs for a long time, but not while I thought it was a breakup song.

Frankly, I wonder if Jonathan was mistaken when he described it as a breakup song. On every level this seems to work way better as a song about somebody getting taken away by death, against their will, against everything they'd want to happen. Knowing it's going to happen, maybe a well diagnosed terminal illness.

I was pretty teary on the bus when this interpretation of it hit me...

Totz the Plaid says

This is possibly the most heartbreakingly beautiful song of all time. That song you mentioned, "Pretending to Care" is the only one I can think of that compares with this in terms of sheer emotion and beauty. I'm unashamed to admit that I almost always cry when listening to this.