Post-Millennial Classic: The Mid-Tempo Meditation “Asking for Flowers” by Kathleen Edwards

The work done by Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards has been consistently exemplary, even if her career trajectory has been a bit atypical. We could reach into her catalog and find any number of stellar songs worthy of a deep dive, but “Asking for Flowers,” the title track of her outstanding 2008 album, feels like a particularly dizzying high point.

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What is the song about? And what inspired Edwards to write it? Let’s take a look back at the meaning and story of Kathleen Edwards’ “Asking for Flowers.”

Third-Album Groove

Go through music history and you’ll find many examples of an artist or a band hitting a peak on their third album. It’s not to say Kathleen Edwards’ first two albums (Failer in 2003 and Back to Me in 2005) were slouches. But Asking for Flowers found her on the improve in just about every way, which is why you can put it on the short list of best albums in both the singer/songwriter and alt-country genres of the past quarter-century or so.

Working with producer Jim Ross, Edwards delivered a rich and varied set of songs. She could be rollicking and funny, as on “I’ll Make the Dough, You Get the Glory.” But she could also tackle the most serious of subjects, as on the true-life tale of “Alicia Ross.”

At the emotional center of it is “Asking for Flowers,” a mid-tempo meditation that touches on relationship angst and depression with striking accuracy and heartfelt empathy. Edwards explained to the blog Aquarium Drunkard what inspired the song:

“‘Asking for Flowers’ was a song I wrote for one of my really close friends. She actually, during this time off I had, was going through a really tough time and has struggled for years with physical and emotional problems. I went to see her at probably one of her hardest times and she told me that her life had been like asking for flowers with some of the judgments and feelings of inadequacy that she had lived with all these years. That the idea of giving somebody compassion and giving them their time without judgment, living a life of asking for flowers. I asked her what that meant and she said being with somebody who just wants to bring them to you and you shouldn’t have to ask for them. Someone should want to just bring them to you.”

While the song and album should have been a springboard for Edwards, she only released one more LP before going on a hiatus where she contemplated quitting music. Luckily for fans, she returned in 2020 after an eight-year break with the album Total Freedom, which showed he had lost nothing off her fastball.

What is the Meaning Behind “Asking for Flowers”?

While “Asking for Flowers” may have been inspired by the struggles of a friend, Edwards gets deep inside the character like only the best songwriters can do. The first line, It’s complicated, seems simple enough, but it sets an important tone. It establishes the difficulty the narrator has in explaining her feelings, and perhaps even some reticence to open up like she’s about to do.

Edwards doesn’t treat this character’s plight lightly. That’s the right move, because it’s a message that we should never take these situations with a grain of salt when we encounter them in our own lives. It’s like a noose around my life, the protagonist complains about the departure of the person who was supposed to be her biggest confidant. It’s a devastating betrayal.

In the throes of her sadness, she starts to lose her connection to anything that might properly orient her: Now I’m trying to remember / All the names of the faces I loved. She also carries around some blame, perhaps misplaced, for her role in all this, calling herself A walking declaration / Of everything I couldn’t get right.

The refrains are reserved for the narrator running down the list of all the efforts she’s made to meet the person she’s addressing halfway: Every pill I took in vain / Every meal for you I made / Every penny I put away. In the final chorus, she adds a few more items: Every card I signed my name / Every time I poured my heart out. She repeats the last item, which highlights the disparity in the relationship, for emphasis: Every cruel word you let just slip out.

By this point, Edwards’ voice is quivering with anger, but she returns to a more restrained mode to deliver her final argument: Don’t tell me you’re too tired / Ten years I’ve been working nights. That last phrase is likely both literal, in terms of an actual occupation, and figurative, in that she’s worked so hard in vain for so little in return.

So many songs attempt to highlight the resilience of a character, and that’s surely admirable. With “Asking for Flowers,” Kathleen Edwards details that point in someone’s life when even resilience might not be enough, when suffering is unavoidable, and the help of others is required. How brave of her to take us into that head and heart space.

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Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage

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