Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sad Songs

I like sad songs and can happily be sad.  The earliest songs that I remember were not sad.  Dean Martin's "Sway'' (1954) and Les Paul and Mary Ford's "Mockin' Bird Hill" (1951) and "How High The Moon" (1951) were catchy, so my foundational musical layer was perky –– or that is how I am imagining the case to have been.

In 1957 the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love” came out.  Listed as #210 in Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, that great song was catchy and sad.  But it was its somber B-side, "I Wonder If I Care As Much” that gave form to gloomy feelings poorly understood by me at age 10, as if a furtive internal sigh had been both clarified and released.
A world of sad songs is out there, and in an earlier draft of this post I had begun a large playlist.  The list grew unwieldy, so I am citing only a few additional songs here.  They happen to make up a trio of father-songs.

The first is "That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine," again by the Everly Brothers (1958).  That song was written by Gene Autry (who had introduced Les Paul and Mary Ford to each other in 1946).  This pairs well with John Prine’s cover of a Steve Goodman song, "My Old Man." Steve Goodman may be best known for having written "The City Of New Orleans," made popular by Arlo Guthrie in 1972.  Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, and the following year a tribute- concert recording was released on which Goodman's friend John Prine sings "My Old Man."

Finally, I am adding John Gorka's "The Mercy Of The Wheels" (1991). John Gorka is moving and epigrammatic, and "The Mercy Of The Wheels" adds to these sad, oddly comforting songs of reminiscence.

Here is that song's refrain:
     I'd like to catch a train
     That could go back in time
     That could make a lot of stops along the way
     I would go to see my father
     With the eyes he left behind
     I would go for all the words
     I'd like to say
     And I'd take along a sandwich
     And a picture of my girl
     And show them all
     That I made out OK

I went still when first I heard this song.  "I would go for all the words I'd like to say” ––  this restates a theme that runs through "That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine" and "My Old Man”: one of yearning, not just for a lost father but for an opportunity to say what hasn't been said or couldn't be said when that parent was alive.  These songs speak to a yearning to be more knowable to and known by another, to share oneself with another more fully than was possible at some earlier time.

This certainly doesn't apply to all sad songs.  "I Wonder If I Care As Much" lacks the depth of "My Old Man" and "The Mercy Of The Wheels."  It is simply a fine example of a You're-gone-I'm-blue song. Perhaps most sad songs address loss, but only some capture that yearning to say what hasn't been said.  It is those that resonate with me.

No comments :

Comments are appreciated: