So here’s the deal with being a writer: if you want to do it properly you need to be able to share. Even if you’re generally a person that is kept to him- or herself, even if you don’t do hugs and you choke when you try to tell someone you love them. Even supposing you don’t talk about your feelings and the general reply to “what’s wrong” is a cold, distant “nothing”. You can be all that in your private life and it’s all fine and well but every single time you write you pour your heart out even if you won’t admit it.
I generally write humor so I’m a far cry from a Herta Muller (thank God), a Victor Hugo (though he could be hilarious at times) or even a Stephen “Don’t Call Me Steven” King. And yet, behind every dick joke and every witty comment is a part of who I am, what I feel and what I’ve been through in life. You need only look a tad bit closer and it will become readily apparent. Anyway, so…like it or not as a writer your feelings are often on public display. You can try to hide that if you don’t worry about writing crap or you can try to embrace it even at the risk of being ridiculed. So here I am embracing it for the sake of writing a decent opener for this blog entry.
Do you know what I’ve been doing for the past half hour, tough guy that I am? I’ve been crying like a little baby, that’s what. Why have I been crying like some pansy you ask amidst fits of laughter? Well, it’s because I’ve just finished the first draft of my first novel and found that, far from being exciting and exhilarating it is an event that left me sad and emotionally drained. Like saying goodbye to a loved one. Surprising, I know, especially since it’s a freakin’ humor novel. Anyway, as I was sobbing like a wimp making Charles Bukowski spin in his grave I decided to play a few of my favorite sob-songs. These are songs that (to me) are so emotional that I generally avoid them for the sole reason that they bring me to tears every time. But, since I was “in Rome” anyway I thought – what the heck – and played them all. Now I want to tell you about them, about four of the saddest songs I’ve come across. If you are a human being, with a soul and feelings and all these are the four songs that are guaranteed to make you lose your shit:
If You Could Read My Mind by Johnny Cash
Originally penned and recorded by Gordon Lightfoot, this song about disappointment and the difficulty of interpersonal communication is covered by Johnny Cash in his brilliant American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways. By this time the wear-and-tear could be felt in the voice of the aging Cash but its frailty made it all the more powerful. It was a time when he covered songs like “Solitary Man”, “Personal Jesus”, “In My Life” and “Hurt” and turned them into irrefutable anthems. This one is not so well-known but the combination of some very beautiful lyrics and the honesty and sensitivity with which he delivers them is absolutely endearing. He sings:
When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won’t read that book again
Because the ending’s just too hard to take
The listener is already mellowed by these lyrics, his emotions ripe for the picking when Johnny says:
I never thought I could act this way
But I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone
And I just can’t get it back
If This is Goodbye by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
In one of the most inspired duets in recent memory former rock titan and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler teams up with the charming and lovely country chanteuse Emmylou Harris to produce the excellent All The Roadrunning. Though the record offers many memorable tracks there is one that stands out amongst them all and that is “If This Is Goodbye”
Your bright shining sun
Would light up the way before me
You were the one
That made me feel I could fly
And I love you, whatever is waiting for me
If this is goodbye, if this is goodbye
The lyrics were inspired by the final words of some of the 9-11 victims, words that had, in many cases, been hastily sent via text message to their loved ones mere minutes before their death. If that does not move you to tears then I sure hope the wizard grants you a heart Tin-Man. When they sing…
Who knows how long we’ve got
And what we’re made up of
Who knows if there’s a plan or not, there is our love
I know there is our love
…I believe it creates one of the most beautiful and sad moments in music history.
Green Green Grass of Home by Porter Waggoner
Green Green Grass of Home is a country classic written by Claude “Curly” Puttman Jr and sung by everyone and their mother. Elvis, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and so on and so forth have covered this song and every version is more heartbreaking then the next. I’ve chosen the version of Porter Waggoner which, if my memory doesn’t fail me, is probably one of the first. The song is about a man returning to his childhood home after a very long time to find that nothing has changed and everyone awaits his arrival with joy:
Yes, they’ve all come to see me
Arms areached, smiling sweetly
It’s so good to touch the green green grass of home
Ofcourse, the song would not be one of music’s finest tearjerkers if it all ended well so the man wakes up to find that he is in a cell serving a death sentence and he realizes that he was only dreaming and the only way he will ever get home again will be in a casket.
Yes they’ll all come to see me
In the shade of that old oak tree
As they lay me neath the green green grass of home
If you too sometimes remember a childhood that will never return again or people and places that have been lost to you then I have two words:
Green Grass by Tom Waits
Incidentally another “grass” song and this one makes the previous song sound like a lullaby. Written by none other than the brilliant Tom Waits and his equally brilliant wife Kathleen Brennan this song, undoubtedly one of his grandest “weepers” speaks of death and loss…from the point of view of the dead.
Lay your head where my heart used to be
Feel the Earth above me
Lay down in the green grass
Remember when you loved me
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when this song brings you to tears as it’s an emotional roller-coaster ride from start to finish. Tom’s rough, old whiskey-voice adds to the mystique of the performance and, just like in the case of Johnny Cash, the “scratches” and “imperfections” of the voice do nothing but add power to the message. My favorite lyrics?
You’ll never be free of me
He’ll make a tree from me
Don’t say goodbye to me
Describe the sky to me
And if the sky falls, mark my words
We’ll catch mockingbirds
So here are four songs that bring me to tears every single time and they will probably do the same for you if you are as passionate and emotionally involved in music as I am. We live in a day and age when sadness is seen as an undesirable emotion and instead we chase cheap chuckles (you see what I did there) and low-brow humor instead. But let’s not forget what these brilliant songwriters are trying to teach us: that melancholy and sadness have their purpose in life and can often be very cathartic.