There’s nothing I like better than a good cry. Yes, just burying my fat face in a filthy pillowcase and sobbing like a freshly cornholed punk. Crying feels great, and it instantly changes the mood of a room into something interesting (unless you’re a kid, in which case it’s just loud; can it, junior!). People don’t know what to do with a crying adult, especially if that adult is crying as a direct result of viewing an episode of “Sanford and Son”. Old men get to me, I can’t help it.
Not gonna talk about visual lachyrma propagaters today, however. More often than not these days I find myself moved to arguably superficial lamentation by songs, usually songs written and/or warbled waveringly by, again, old men. There are songs out there that have the power to make me misty every damn time I’m stupid enough to play them. Stupid because I’m usually in the car when I’m listening to music, and I wouldn’t label myself Motorist of the Year under even the least weepy of circumstances. I bet one out of every twenty stoplights I’m hastily wiping hot tears out of my eyes, while chuckling ruefully at the same time given that said tears are likely as not the result of a Kenny Rogers song. That’s pre-horrific-facial-reconstruction Kenny Rogers, by the way, not that I imagine I needed to qualify that but I can never be sure about who it is I might be speaking with here. Honestly, look at this picture and tell me that’s an improvement:
Kenny, old hoss. You sure that’s what you want to be doing with your face? Your former self shouldn’t want to kick your current self’s ass. Supposed to be the other way around. Look, you were never “Playgirl” material to begin with. You can age with grace or you can polish a turd. Grace/turd, Gambler. Shouldn’t be a choice.
Now that I’ve waggled a no-no finger at him for no real good reason other than the fact that he looks like a clown and I don’t get the chance to publicly dress down country and western legends all that often, let’s make amends by starting my list off with one of his tunes. I should probably mention right off the bat that the majority of these songs are going to be of the country persuasion. It’s a genre I find myself turning to more often as I get older. The very earnestness I found embarassing in high school now seems refreshing and nice. When it sucks, it sucks worse than just about anything has or could, but when it’s good, it’s something to hear. Anyway, if you’re not into that kind of thing, now would be a good time to bail out. (Ed.: After all that, I only ended up mentioning 2 songs that could be realistically considered country, although I was upset to learn that Glen Campbell apparently covered #3) Also, I’ve tried to embed each of the songs into the post right before I drone on endlessly about them, so the thing to do would be to get the song playing, provided you care to hear it, then read my crap while it’s on. I’m attempting to do this through a seemingly workable site called Grooveshark which I’m still getting used to, so if none of these songs end up working, you can actually go to that site, type in the title, and it’ll play for ya. (Ed. We had trouble playing the songs on our Mac, but the PC seems to work fine. Sorry, Macs.)
1) on my list of sappy songs that get my goat is The Greatest by Kenneth Ray Rogers.
I’m not totally sure why this one gets to me, but it almost always does. Kenny has far sadder songs than this one (heard “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” lately?), but something about the simple melody, the innocence and frustration of the theme, and the M. Night Shapoopie twisteroo at the end just gets me where I live. I never voluntarily played any team sports in youth, and went to my happy place whenever forced to participate, and while I’d rather detach my left eyelid by repeatedly and haphazardly puncturing it with a pencil than watch most any sporting event on television, I somehow often as not find myself genuinely moved by films, shows, or songs that involve sports. I guess it’s because they almost always involve a good-hearted so-and-so trying their best to succeed despite their obvious limitations and general lack of support. I respond well to heart. But only when it’s fictionalized. And I hate competition. The Olympics bore the shit out of me. People actually playing sports all look lifeless to me. You’re watching them do their job. Jobs are usually what make you not like your life. Maybe I’m not giving sports a chance. I don’t know. Another aspect of this song that should (but to me somehow doesn’t) sap it of any tearjerking possibilities is the fact that it features the word “undeterred”. That’s a ridiculous word to put in a song. It stands out, not least because Kenny pronounces it “undie turd”. Poignant!
You know what I think it is about this song that gets me? It’s the thought of Kenny Rogers reading the lyrics for the first time and being tickled by the ending, thinking to himself about what a delightful surprise lay in store for the listener. Sure, it’s a simple trick that you probably saw a mile away, but it caught me completely off guard, and to my horror I found myself all choked up. Plus the ending is your reward for sticking with this kid for three minutes or so while he repeatedly screws up and rachets up the tension with his ineptitude and determination. You didn’t bargain on becoming invested in the success of a nameless Little Leaguer. You just wanted to listen to a Kenny Rogers song. It’s a release, one that works all too well on me, to an embarrassing extent really. Kenny always gave you a compelling tale (“Coward of the County”!), and I for one appreciate it. Thanks, Pennywise the Bearded Transsexual.
2) Desperados Waiting for a Train by Guy Clark
I played the Red River Valley.
He’d sit in the kitchen and cry.
Run his fingers through seventy years of livin’.
“I wonder, Lord, has every well I’ve drilled gone dry?”
We were friends, me and this old man,
Like desperados waitin’ for a train.
Good Lord almighty, Guy Clark, why don’t you just give me a titty twister while you’re at it? This is a bee-yoo-tee-ful song about the friendship between a boy and an old man. I feel like this song is an old favorite, despite the fact that I heard it for the first time about a year ago. Clark gets lumped in with Townes Van Zandt and all those Texas guys who got popular back in the 1970’s with their way of marrying spare tunes to evocative yet no less minimal lyrics. He puts a great deal of craft into his songs, worrying over an album for years before releasing it, so while a fan may wish for more output, they can at least be assured that what they get is going to represent the best possible version of this guy. It was pleasingly unsurprising to learn that he makes the guitars that he plays. I would submit that few artists are as close to their work as this man.
I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about a fella maybe getting an eyelash in his eye while listening to this song. It’s classically sad, the melody is pretty, the chorus/hook hugs you like a good friend you haven’t seen in ages, and delivering the package is one of the most stirring voices in country music. Both conversational and otherworldly, his vocals lend, or rather reveal, a sad magic to the people and things lying around your house. If Guy Clark wrote a song about a laundry basket, I guarantee you I’d cry about it.
3) Marie by Randy Newman
I’m weak and I’m lazy
And I’ve hurt you so
And I don’t listen to a word you say
And when you’re in trouble I turn away
But I love you
And I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie
Back in 2005, I was out of work, and not feeling particular about what I did so long as it resulted in funds that I could then fork over to the weaselly old bastard who owned the rickety duplex we were living in. My mother-in-law worked in a building that housed a number of businesses, one of which was a start-up call center called “Networking Solutions” or something equally colorless and disheartening. Anyway, she was nice enough to recommend me to the guy running the thing, an agreeable-seeming young gentleman who decorated his office with cardboard standees of Red Sox players and began every other sentence with the phrase “in point of fact”. Following an interview during which I said almost nothing and surely gave no indication that I would be at all suited to the task at hand, I was hired, and due to the fact that I lived nowhere near my new workplace, I was allowed to work from our apartment, and I soon set about the task of phoning homeowners and gravely upsetting them. Basically, I would procure a list of phone numbers, call them, and if the person was unlucky enough to be home they would be asked by me if they received the literature sent to them by a mortgage company whose name escapes me. When they responded to the negative, an inevitable development given that no such literature existed, I would then awkwardly try to get them interested in refinancing their home, procuring much of their personal information in the process, including their social security number. From there I assume their savings accounts were plundered and their housepets crucified, though we were assured that they were simply contacted by a mortgage counselor.
Whatever the case, the job was every bit as horrible as it sounds. I would shut myself in our cramped upstairs office and stare at the list of phone numbers, working up the guts to actually call one of them and engage a sure-to-be-ticked stranger in a conversation that neither of us wanted to be in. I would try to force my brain to believe that it belonged to someone else, someone who had no problem with any of this. Eventually I discovered that changing my desktop wallpaper to the lewdest pornography imaginable and staring into it intently while talking to prospective refinancers both calmed me down and instilled a ludicrous courage in me, the idea I guess being that maybe you’re screaming at me for interrupting your soap opera with a half-baked and thoroughly inadvisable real estate proposition, but I’m staring directly into the anus of a lesbian drilling another lesbian’s anus with a novelty-sized strap-on. Take that, unwitting homeowners of New England! Please don’t be home!
So for awhile there thanks to ravageddungholes.com I burned through several lists of phone numbers, and even had a few “successes”. But the smooth sailing didn’t last, and one afternoon I was feeling particularly listless and defeated and rather than making any calls I found myself scrolling through my iTunes, listening to songs I’d drunkenly downloaded at random in the recent past. One of these songs was “Marie” by Randy Newman. Not sure how I came to download it, other than I was drunk, but I double-clicked on it and gave it a shot. Then I listened to it again. And again. And again. 42 times I listened to that song. I remember the number clearly. Cried and listened again, cried and listened again. I didn’t want to ever not be hearing it, or not be crying, at least in that moment. God, what a fucking awful job that was. I was fired shortly thereafter (“In point of fact, we’re actually gonna have to let you go.”), and despite desperately needing the work, the relief was palpable.
I worship Randy Newman. I think he’s a genius. He doesn’t tend to inspire an “ehh, he’s okay” reaction. It seems like people either adore him or detest him. I’m comfortable calling his voice gross. He sounds like a big ol’ frog, and beyond that a frog with no range who has a difficult time with pitch. All the more appropriate for his protagonists, the majority of which are imperfect to say the least, and proudly so. The guy groveling to “Marie” here certainly seems to be no prize, but the missives he admits to are quite relatable to your average alternately doofy/stonefaced husband. For as much as I love my wife and can’t begin to imagine a life without her, I sure tune her out and get pissed off at her for no reason a lot. Sometimes that irritation stems from my own inability to conceive of someone as genuine and kind as her wanting to spend any amount of time with a bitchy dick such as yours truly. Dumb.
For awhile I wanted “Marie” to be the song we danced to at our wedding, and were I the only person involved in our nuptials-related decisions, I might have selected it. In the end I conceded to a song from the film “A Mighty Wind” that we both love. Less depressing without sacrificing the individuality. Probably a better decision in the long run. But for me, no song better captures the conflicting passions that are part and parcel of loving someone enough to hang out with them for the rest of your life than “Marie”. It’s the truest and prettiest love song I’ve ever heard.
4) My Old Man by John Prine (written by Steve Goodman)
And oh the fights we had
When my brother and I got him mad;
He’d get all boiled up and he’d start to shout
We knew what was coming so we tuned him out.
Now the old man is gone and I’d give all I own
To hear what he said when I wasn’t listening
To my old man
There are many John Prine songs that reduce me to tears, sometimes simply because I really like the song and I’m happy to have found it. This isn’t actually one that he wrote. “My Old Man” was written by the late Steve Goodman, a fellow songwriter whose career path was pretty similar to Prine’s: early critical success, the respect of quick-to-cover peers, and disappointing record sales. Goodman is probably best known for writing that “Good morning America, how are ya” song, the title of which I believe is “The City of New Orleans”. I’m not as familiar with his work as I’d like to be, so I can’t really go on too much about him, but to my mind he has written the ultimate dad song. “Cat’s in the Cradle” can go jump in the lake. He and Prine were best friends, so on top of the dad sadness, you have a guy paying tribute to a fallen comrade behind it. Again, this is essentially an Indian sunburn in song format.
Imagine your dad dying, assuming he’s not already worm food and you don’t hate his guts, and then listen to this song and imagine it playing at his funeral. Now try not to crumple to the floor in a convulsing, inconsolable heap. Try it! It’s fun! The pappy in “My Old Man”, though I’m willing to bet it’s an accurate portrait of Goodman’s father, is a fairly broad representation of your typical old school dad, which I suppose is what makes it so affecting from a gut level. On paper, Goodman’s dad and my own aren’t 100% cut from the same cloth: while the song version details his “corny jokes”, “cheap cigar”, and ability to “look you in the eye and sell you a car”, my own father is actually rather clever and funny, hasn’t smoked since he was a kid, and maintains eye contact well enough but isn’t terribly interested in or adept at strongarming anyone into a hasty financial decision. Despite this, the songwriting on display and Prine’s warm delivery of same (he’s clearly breaking up himself in the last stanza) make it impossible not to think about everything your dad did or didn’t do for you, and think even harder of everything you did or didn’t do for him, and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Luckily there’s a lilting flute solo in the middle of the song during which you can undergo a complete mental breakdown without missing any touching lyrics.
5) The Last Game of the Season (A Blind Man in the Bleachers) by David Geddes
We’ll end it on a somewhat silly note so you don’t come away from this thing wanting to put a nail gun to your temple. I would encourage all of you to seek out the work of undervalued pop music pioneer David Geddes. No question he is no more a household name than you or I, but his overwrought mini-manifestos of AM gold are a boneheaded joy to experience. My minimal research on the man informs me that he only had one album. Always leave ’em wanting more. This cumbersomely-titled little number actually charted so you may have even caught it on an oldies station at some point, although I’ve logged a lot of oldies-station-listening in my day and I don’t recall ever having encountered it until online recently, dubbing around on last.fm in an early-70’s kind of mood one fateful evening.
I’m not going to go into this one in great detail, both because I’m as dog tired of typing about sappy tunes as I imagine you are of reading about them and because the song and its “gotcha” moment are best experienced for yourself. It’s so on-the-nose and over-the-top that I can’t help but directly reward it with the dreaded single tear it begs so shamelessly for. Waaah, effort and handicaps are difficult for people!
It seems I’ve unthinkingly bookended this list of musical weepies with heavy-handed, athletic-themed underdog story-songs. I gotta say I feel pretty good about that. Anyway, I hope you found something here that was to your liking, but ultimately this is all about me, so at the end of the day your opinion is immaterial. Have a good’n!