For The Sake Of The Song: Gretchen Peters “Five Minutes”

Gretchen Peters
Photo Credit: Andrew Newiss

It’s not often you remember where you were when you heard a song for the first time.  In June 2011, I was at the Stables in Wavendon, Milton Keynes, seeing Wine, Women & Song (Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss playing in the round) when Peters announced she was going to play a new song.  Five minutes later as the song finished there was a moment of silence as the audience held a breath before breaking out into rapturous applause.

‘Five Minutes’ is an astounding piece of song writing.  It lasts the five minutes of the title, the same length of time of Peters’ character’s break from her job as a waitress as well as the interval from ignition to extinction of the character’s cigarette.

Peters’ story though is a of single mother thinking of her own life bringing up her 17-year-old daughter while working a tough job providing survival wages which leaves her exhausted at the end of the shift.  She also finds herself thinking of her past lover – likely the one true love of her life – and the father of her daughter and seeing the parallels of the daughter’s rebelliousness with her own.  There is also tenderness both in terms of the daughter’ slipping a blanket over her sleeping parent and the café owner offering to take care of the waitress (not in a creepy way).  Peters’ waitress’s heart though belongs to her lost love.

The verse narratives swirl in their own tight twists like the plumes of smoke from the cigarette, returning to the progress of the smoke break.   As well as being a superb example of the songwriter’s craft, ‘Five Minutes’ is incredibly poignant leaving the listener with sympathetic but nuanced pictures of the various protagonists.

It’s the centrepiece of Peters’ 2012 ‘Hello Cruel World’ album with accompaniment from Barry Walsh on keys, Viktor Krauss on bass and Will Kimbrough on guitar amongst others.  This and subsequent live versions are highlights of any set; that first hearing though will forever remain unique.

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