Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sad Songs Say So Much: The Seven Saddest Songs of All-Time, In Order of How Much They Say, Numbers 7 and 6

I've been accused of liking sad maudlin music. My taste has been labeled "sadcore." I find this ridiculous. Have you heard my mix CDs? Sure, back in the early 90s, my mixes (then on cassette) would be rather depressing. I would (mostly) include songs that reflected what I wanted to say to the recipient of the mix but couldn't say myself. Being that many of my feelings toward these recipients were unrequited, the mope factor was increased exponentially. Ironically, many of these tapes were never given to their recipient and have only been listened to by me (e.g., the famed late 1994 mix for someone with the initials D.D., filled with the saddest songs I could find by The Judybats, The Go-Betweens, Tori Amos, and the guy who sings the #7 song below). But if you look, for example, at the mix CD I made just last year for someone in Orange County, you'd notice lots of joyous bouncy songs. This list, however, is about the sad ones, so let's begin.

7. Call Me In Wisconsin (Before the War) - Sigmund Snopek III Most of the songs on Snopek's Wisconsinsane album could be described as sad. Back in '87 when it came out, I was way too sentimental and nostalgic for a carefree college student. I was hooked by Snopek's pining for a (relatively recent) time that had passed from him permanently. This song, the last on the album, is full of tear-soaked longing for a lost love. He just wants her to call him. Preferably, before the war. And just in case she doesn't have the number, he tells her to "call information in Wisconsin." All of that would be sad enough. But Sigmund (who shook my hand in '06) isn't done. As the song closes with an instrumental coda, there's a faint barely perceptible voice reciting a series of numbers. Yep, it's Sigmund whispering his phone number, just in case his lost love is listening with high-quality headphones. Actually, all I could really make out was the 414 area code and a few other digits. But still... he's listed.

6. Gulf Shores - Palace Music

Palace Music was one of Will Oldham's early incarnations. He seems to have settled in with the Bonnie "Prince" Billy moniker for a few years now. Anyway, back in '97, his voice had even more youthful quiver than it does now. His lyrics had even more desperate fatalism. So yes, it's a slow quiet song. Most sad songs are. Let's get to the words, helpfully laid out in simple ABCB verse:
It was hard enough to climb upon
It was slow-going at first
Sister, you have laid long in the sun
Aren't you dying of thirst?
The "sister" isn't an affectation. I'm pretty sure he's singing to his sister. She pops up in some of his other songs. Anyway, this isn't so sad. She's in the sun. Then, a little bit later:

Have you thought that you could waste away?
You don't care much for yourself
There are circles deep beneath your eyes
Why do you do this to yourself?

Sadder. A bit judgmental. But he cares about her. Unless the circles beneath eyes belong to him and the sister is just a vehicle. Soon, hope emerges:

If you like we two could take a ride
I would love to take you down
We could watch a blue heron in flight
We could see the sights in town

They're on a family vacation. A long one. When I was young, family vacations were the most exciting and memorable times, yet they were also the most languid times. He wants her to stop laying on the sand, exposed to the sun. He wants her to put on a hat and get in the car. To town, where the blue herons fly.

(Come to think of it, when I was a teenager, most of our family vacations involved going somewhere sunny and warm. My sister and mother would spend seemingly all their time lying in the sun. My father would make fun of them for being so lazy. I would be off somewhere reading basketball books or swimming in water. This dynamic would lead to one of the funniest moments of my life, involving something my father said to my sister. It's a story I cannot retell here.)

I need to get to my point. Is anyone even reading this far? Next couplet:

You have laid here by the waterside
You have let the family down

Until I Googled the lyrics to this song today, I always thought Oldham was singing "Yeah, I've let the family down." I thought he was turning the sad judgments inward. In fact, I just listened to that line again and I can't say for sure either way. But the "you have" makes more sense in the song's greater context. No matter what, the concept of someone letting the family down is what gets to me here. It's a common theme among my immediate and extended families (and everyone's family, likely).

I'll close with the song's final two verses, the afternoon (and soon, the vacation) over and the ugly things and the loneliness closing in:

Soon the restaurants will open up Soon the bars will light their lights You have aged, you must start looking up Ugly things will come tonight

We could drive down to another beach
Even tanned your skin seems white
All our friends have gone away from here
So let's disappear from sight

(series to be continues next week... or next month... or next year)

No comments: