Sad songs say so much


When I was a kid, between ages 7 and 10, I was a Wolf Cub (now called a Cub Scout). I had the Cub Book which contained a list of all the badges and stars, ideas for things to do at camps or outdoors, lyrics to campfire songs, and lots of other Cub-related stuff. One of the campfire songs was My Darlin’ Clementine. I only knew the chorus of the song, which included the lines “You are lost and gone forever, oh my darlin’ Clementine.” I didn’t know the rest of the words, so I figured it was about a man whose wife or girlfriend had left him, a theme not uncommon in songs. One day I read the actual lyrics and found that Clementine was actually the guy’s daughter and she didn’t just leave, she drowned in a river. She died. I was stunned. This was about the saddest thing I’d ever read and from that day on, I hated that song for making me sad. I didn’t even want to look at that page in the Cub Book again. No word of a lie, I memorized what page it was on and intentionally skipped it when looking through the book for anything.

That experience taught me at an early age just how much of an effect music can have on a person emotionally. Here are a few other (non-campfire) songs that tug on the ol’ heartstrings.

Hold on – Sarah McLachlan

This is a heartbreaking song about a woman tending to her dying husband. She switches back and forth between hoping that he’ll get better and accepting the fact that he’s not going to. Sample lyrics:

So now you’re sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray
That you’ll be strong tomorrow
And we’ll see another day
And we will praise it
And love the light that brings a smile
Across your face

Oh God, the man I love is leaving
Won’t you take him when he comes to your door

Castle on a Cloud – Les Misérables (young Cosette)

I wrote about this one many years ago, when I said “No child should ever have to feel that much despair”. It’s sung by Cosette, a young girl whose mother died when she was a baby and has lived in poverty and neglect ever since. She dreams of a place where she would experience none of the terrible things that happen to her on a normal day.

There is a lady all in white
Holds me and sings me a lullaby
She’s nice to see and she’s soft to touch
She says “Cosette, I love you very much”

I know a place where no one’s lost
I know a place where no one cries
Crying at all is not allowed
Not in my castle on a cloud

4AM – Our Lady Peace

This one is about a man with a strained relationship with his father, who is filled with regret after he passes away.

Walked around  my good intentions
And found that there were none
I blamed my father for the wasted years
We hardly talked
Never thought I would forget this hate
Then a phone call made me realize I’m wrong

If I don’t make it known that I’ve loved you all along
Just like sunny days that we ignore because
We’re all dumb and jaded
And I hope to God I figure out what’s wrong

The River – Bruce Springsteen

A ballad about a young couple who married young when she became pregnant. They then watched their dreams fade away and their lives pass them by.

We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle
No flowers, no wedding dress

Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister, they vanished right into the air
Now I act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin

Possibly the quintessential tearjerker song. It’s about a father who never makes time for his son only to find that once he’s older and finally wants to spend time with him, the son has no time for his father. Excuse me for a minute while I go hug my kids. <Muzak> OK, I’m back now.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

A Month of Sundays – Don Henley

This is a retired farmer talking about his life, some of the hardships he’s been through, and how different things are now. The song touches on politics but doesn’t get preachy (unlike a few other Henley songs), but the last line (listed below) is the one that really gets to me.

I’ve seen dog days and dusty days,
Late spring snow and early fall sleet
I’ve held the leather reins in my hands
I’ve felt the soft ground under my feet
Between the hot, dry weather and the taxes and the cold war
It’s been hard to make ends meet
But I always kept the clothes on our backs
I always put the shoes on our feet

The big boys, they all got computers
Got incorporated too
Me, I just know how to raise things
That was all I ever knew
And now it all comes down to numbers
Now I’m glad that I have quit
Folks these days just don’t do nothin’
Simply for the love of it

I sit here on the back porch in the twilight
And I hear the crickets hum
I sit and watch the lightning in the distance
But the showers never come
I sit here and listen to the wind blow
I sit here and rub my hands
I sit here and listen to the clock strike,
And I wonder when I’ll see my companion again

Man, is it ever getting dusty in here. <sniff>

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