The Encouraging Despair of Dawes’ ‘Didn’t Fix Me’

Aarik Danielsen

Save Dawes a chapter in your book of rock-and-roll proverbs.

Singer Taylor Goldsmith’s pen draws lines—some straight, others wavy—between time-tested wisdom and the felt realities of right now. For more than a decade, he has crafted lines that sting and surprise like scripture:

“Well, you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks / Yes, you can stare into the abyss / But it’s staring right back” (“When My Time Comes”).

“I think that love is so much easier than you realize / If you can give yourself to someone, then you should” (“A Little Bit of Everything”).

If you don’t stop to ask questions, you’d swear Goldsmith copped the chorus for “Things Happen” straight from the Old Testament: “Things happen / that’s all they ever do.”

Set against a sound that captures California’s cool, yet digs into the rests like jazz players (think an even more in-the-pocket Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), these maxims are bound to stick to the soul. As Goldsmith’s age catches up with the maturity in his lyrics, Dawes curves away from the philosophical, articulating something even more lived-in.

The band inches toward the gospel near the end of its latest project, Good Luck With Whatever. “Didn’t Fix Me”—my favorite song of the year—doesn’t argue for anything. But Goldsmith shares the story of salvation with negative space. Through a beautiful process of elimination, he describes life without a holy anchor.

The gently absorbing lead guitar introduces a series of vignettes in which Goldsmith’s narrator invests his faith. But, as the refrain reminds, “it didn’t fix me / like I thought it would.”

He turns first to a guru peddling pop spirituality; this would-be healer identifies “which habits to surrender / and which habits to embrace.” The encounter leaves Goldsmith “feeling pretty good” for a few days, but the shine wears off. Likewise, spending himself as a volunteer doesn’t dull the ache; neither does borrowing a book which tells a story of breach and forgiveness.

“I think I see what you were saying / About how technically it should,” Goldsmith laments. “But . . . it didn’t fix me / like I thought it would.”

In his most wry, knowing verse, the singer wrestles with the possible validation that attends a nomination “for an award that I don't need.” Goldsmith can’t help but undercut his self-awareness and confession: “But I say that out of obligation / I really spent hours on my speech.”

Goldsmith describes life without a holy anchor.

Goldsmith achieves something more sweet than bitter in the final stanza. He describes finding love, no doubt drawing from his marriage to Mandy Moore, with someone who “sees the ways in which I'm ugly / And loves me for those reasons too.” But even being fully known and still loved—a sensation sin ruined in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve acquired a deep-seated fear of being seen in all their nakedness, causing them to hide from God and shy away from each other—can’t do the trick. With that verse, he acknowledges that no single person should bear the weight of finishing another; and seems to accept that no fix is actually coming.

The song fades, and I can’t help but count all the people, places, and things I ask to fix me. A fresh start in a new town. Having a girlfriend, then having a wife. The pill I take so my brain doesn’t overwhelm my body. Ending years of fatherlessness with a son. The next byline—the one that will establish my reputation as someone who must be read.

Like Goldsmith, I’m realizing none of these things—alone or combined—fulfills. Every town bears its share of scars and stories. My wife, wonderful as she is, buckles under my full weight. I have to take that pill again the next morning. My son acts his age. And even when that byline lands, the glow gives way to the chafing of imposter syndrome.

The Sunday-school answer, the one I should invoke here, says God is the only one capable of fixing us. But the more I hear out Goldsmith—and examine my own life—that sentence feels too simplistic. My worship and hope rest on Jesus; my life is bound up in his. And yet very little feels fixed. Especially in this year of growing distance and widening fissures.

Rather than throw your hands up and judge the gospel impotent, take heart: it’s still working as it should. The Bible doesn’t promise the cheap satisfaction we hear in commercials, love songs, even certain sermons. It describes salvation like an extended-release medicine; the prescription is written in physician’s script, but the actual remedy works through us a little at a time, day after day. The writer of Hebrews, considering the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrificial life, death ,and resurrection, says “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

We belong to him, yet are still in a state of becoming. The great difference between God and us, perhaps, is that he doesn’t see us as problems to fix, but children to love till we become our truest selves. And until we are whole, he promises his presence—which is the point of the story.

When the gap between what’s real and what’s promised seems wide, we can sing along with Goldsmith. Even the message of Jesus doesn’t fix us, not like we thought it would. Yet something else awaits. Not a one-time fix, but a coming home—to ourselves and to him.

Topics: Music