“Baobabs” is a song included as a bonus track in the deluxe version of Regina Spektor’s fourth studio album, Begin to Hope (2006). It’s based off the famous novella The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, first published in 1943.
Lyrically it’s a first-person narrative with Regina adopting the persona of the Rose, who appears in the second act (shit, I forgot what you call the equivalent for prose). But the song also alludes to other characters, namely the cryptic but wise Fox.
When the Little Prince first meets the Fox, interestingly the Fox doesn’t ask the child alien to just befriend him; the beast actually begs him to “Please — tame me!”
To tame someone or somebody is to “establish ties”. As the Fox explains to the Little Prince by way of example:
To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…
But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life . I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain−fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.
According to the Fox, you don’t just create a bond with someone else. You start investing thought and emotion into what would have previously meant nothing to you, simply because it’s associated with him/her, no matter how trivial the significance.
Like, for instance, how you may have never cared for Korean serial dramas, but because your best friend likes it, you remind her that the latest episode is already out or, on a grander scale, allow her to drag you out on a rainy late November day to Nami Island where they filmed Winter Sonata (it was scenic, I’ll give her that). In fact, I tend to say this a lot, about how much I know about something or someone usually correlates to how much I care or bother: don’t know, don’t care.
Or like how, in “Baobabs”, you’d have never even considered moving to the city at all if it wasn’t for someone else. Maybe they grew up there, they didn’t grow up in the suburbs or the countryside like you. Maybe they’re moving there for work.
And I wouldn’t raise my child inside this city anyway
They grow up too savvy and they grow up too fast
And they know about buying shit and they know about sex
And they know about investment banking and also about brokerage firms
And they know about the numbers and they know about the words
And they know about the bottom line and also about stones
And they know about careers and about the real deals
And they all grow up and become people’s people with people skills
There’s a sense of exasperation in the verse above as well as in the first one (“They’ll grow right though if I don’t watch it/ They’ll grow right through even if I watch it/ And a sunset couldn’t save me now”).
The Rose was supposedly inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s own wife, Consuelo de Saint Exupéry. She has been described as proud, wilful, even “petulant“, among other things. And I imagine her to be a cynic, if not a pessimist, considering her romantic track record. Her first marriage ended in divorce, the second by death. Her third marriage, to Saint-Exupéry, was marked by adultery, although the two reportedly managed to maintain a great affection and tenderness between them in spite of that. Still, that relationship ended prematurely too, when Saint-Exupéry’s aircraft disappeared over the Mediterranean during a reconnaissance mission in 1944.
This is undoubtedly a love song. But the Rose in Regina’s song is no rose-coloured glasses-wearing romantic sitting and sighing by a window.
Her Rose is most probably pacing up and down, her footsteps echoing the piano chords, and the pounding she feels in her chest, in her temples. Because she’s uncertain, not just unsure about the one she loves — perhaps they’re not even together yet and she’s not sure he or she feels the same way — but also about herself. “I don’t have my thorns now”. Isn’t she supposed to be a realist, especially after everything that’s happened?
So she starts listing out to anyone, or no one in particular, what she dislikes about this whole situation — yeah, she’ll probably call it just that, because, god, how else can you describe this.
And then she probably eventually throws her hands up in the air, or shrugs her shoulders. Bo pian lor. What to do.
I feel them sprouting
They’ll grow right though if I don’t watch it
They’ll grow right through even if I watch it […]
These baobabs, and baobabs
And baobabs some more
But you can’t out-wait fate
When the Little Prince eventually leaves the Fox to resume his journey, the Fox cries, but its tears aren’t entirely sad.
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm;
but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the colour of the wheat fields.”
Still, it’s scary to be vulnerable, to relinquish your heart to someone else, never mind what the Fox says.
The Rose is now at the mercy of the other party, so she reminds him/her that a relationship, platonic or otherwise, entails responsibility. And though she’s not acting like her usual self, she’s still haughty after all. So she throws down the gauntlet — and at him/her, at first demanding and then imploring more quietly that they don’t leave her hanging.
I’m surprised this song hasn’t been used at all in other media. It’d be a perfect soundtrack to a rom-com with a headstrong, love-adverse heroine. Most of the accompanying songs — many of them popular — are less nuanced, in the basic “I love you even though you are a cat person and I hate cats” sense. “Baobabs” is less Taming of the Shrew, and more negotiation by a shrew. I pity rom-com fans and love fools; that would make for an even better movie.