The Song: "These Days," Jackson Browne. Words and music by Jackson Browne. Track 5 of For Everyman, 1973.
How/when acquired: I have no idea. I can't remember not owning some version of this song, in some format. I currently own eight different versions, including two by Jackson Browne and covers by Nico, Gregg Allman, and Fountains of Wayne, among others.
Listen/watch here. (That's an acoustic version; Nico's original cover is here, and Gregg Allman's version is here.)
Yes, I own eight versions of this song. It's important to me, and this line in particular surfaces in my consciousness once a day or more. Jackson Browne was only 16 when he wrote it. When he was 19, he sold it to Nico, who recorded it for her album Chelsea Girl (that's Browne on guitar accompanying her). The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tom Rush, Kenny Rogers' band Gator Creek and Iain Matthews also covered the song before Browne recorded it himself. The version on For Everyman credits Gregg Allman for the arrangement; Allman recorded it around the same time for his first solo album, Laid Back, which changed this line to "Please don't confront me with my failures; I'm aware of them." I like the original lyrics better.
As an editor, I spend a lot of time pointing out other people's mistakes — not failures, exactly, but things that could be improved by adjustments large and small. It's a big responsibility and can be a stressful one, as what everyone really wants to hear is that their work is good, that I love it, and that they don't need to fix a thing. Clients ask "Do you like it?" and "Is it good?" Those are questions I usually can't answer until the very end of the process. While I'm editing I'm often almost hostile to the work, because if I let myself get sucked into the story I might miss an error or a plot hole. It's best if I don't talk to clients while I'm editing their work; I'm scary in editing mode, sometimes even to myself.
But recommendations for improvement and correction, and queries about plot holes and inconsistencies, are not — and should not be — a confrontation with failure. Writing is less like target practice than like mountain-climbing; you didn't miss the goal, you just haven't gotten there yet.
Anyway, I've never seen a book published without flaws. If you're a reader and have ever been tempted to write an author about a mistake you've found in a novel, I can only say: Please don't. It makes them crazy, as I know from close observation of clients in the wild. An author's ability to correct errors is limited once a book goes into print. If a book doesn't go into multiple printings (and most don't), all your helpful feedback does is remind the author of a failure he or she will never be able to remedy. If you must tell someone, send the publisher a letter. If you really can't let it go, stop a minute to think about how you feel when a stranger approaches you in the middle of the working day to say, "You did that wrong." Chances are, they already know, and have not forgotten.