Another Saturday night – and songs of loneliness

In deference to Cat Stevens, it was the legendary Sam Cooke who made this song soar. Here is the first stanza that sets the stage for being lonely on yet another Saturday night.

“Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause i just got paid
How I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way”

Loneliness is a common theme of ballads. I was watching an excellent documentary on Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys last night. The parts that stood out to me are when Elton John and Bruce Springsteen repeatedly sang his praises of musicality and wordmanship. His brothers Carl and Dennis sang praises of their tortured brother as well and it is apparent the love they had for each other.

Elton said something interesting that when Wilson expanded his horizons and wrote deeper and richer songs, it of course brought out more emotional and poignant lyrics. The instrumentation on “God only knows” which he asked his brother Carl to sing the lead is far more complex than the simple sound, to the extent the studio producer does not know how he did it. Both Elton and Bruce spoke of how they wore out “In my room” which Brian speaks of a safe haven.

Loneliness, love, spirituality, security, et al are emotions that are all over his later songs. Yet, he was indeed a tortured soul suffering from Schizoid Affective Disorder. Even in the documentary, riding in a car with a friend doing the interview, Wilson was anxious and scared. He did and does hear voices. He was depressed. He was also taken advantage by a controlling counselor for nine years who would not let him talk to his own family.

Yet, he was Mozart-like in his writing. The one thing that drove him beyond the love of music was competition. Competition with other song writers like Lennon and McCartney, but with himself as well.

Back to Sam Cooke and his song about a man with money to spend, but no one to spend it with. I think we all are lonely souls to some degree. The number of songs that speak to this are immense. Brian wrote “God only knows what I’d be without you.” We may not be able to find a “you” but we should not give up trying.

One of my favorite songs about loneliness is the story of “A Better Place to Be” by Harry Chapin. Here is the close to the song, a conversation between two lonely people:

“You know the waitress took her bar rag
And she wiped it across her eyes
And as she spoke her voice came out as something like a sigh
She said, “I wish that I was beautiful or that you were halfway blind
And I wish I weren’t so goddamned fat, I wish that you were mine
And I wish that you’d come with me when I leave for home
For we both know all about emptiness and livin’ all alone”

And the little man
Looked at the empty glass in his hand
And he smiled a crooked grin
He said, “I guess I’m out of gin
And I know we both have been so lonely

And if you want me to come with you that’s all right with me
‘Cause I know I’m goin’ nowhere and anywhere’s a better place to be”

So, when you speak to someone in a store or on the street, you may be speaking to someone who does not have many conversations. I wrote recently about The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Let’s try not to let people die alone. Reach out. I remember the story of a homeless man who started crying when a woman spoke to him – you see she was the first person to speak to him in over a month. Think about that.

Sunday mornin’ coming down

One of the best songs written by Kris Kristofferson is the title of this post – “Sunday mornin’ coming down.” The song is largely about the loneliness of Sunday morning after a night of drinking, smoking and partying. Here is the chorus:

“On the Sunday morning sidewalks
Wishing lord that I was stoned
‘Cause there is something in a sunday
That makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleepin’ city side walks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down”

I wanted to use this song to portray while we are alone, we crave being social with a group of people. The Greek language has a word for this called ‘thumos” which means a desire to belong and be recognized. When we don’t have those things, we can get awful lonely.

One of the saddest ballads happens to be one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, “Eleanor Rigby.” It tells a story of a lonely woman of that name dying and being buried by a lonely priest named Father McKenzie. Here are the final stanza and chorus to the song which tells you all you need to know:

“Eleanor Rigby
Died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie
Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?”

I use these two examples, as we humans will join groups that may be not the kind of groups we should belong to. We do that to just avoid being lonely. We do that because someone or group is paying attention to me. These groups of extremists actually prey on lonely people telling them “The Others” are the reason for their lot in life. They turn loneliness and disenfranchisement into fear. This groupthink is alluring as well as palliative.

It is hard to break through the shell that is created to protect its members. Bill Maher calls it the “bubble.” He said it is hard to get factual information inside the bubble, as the members of the group don’t want to hear contrary information. Once these folks have drunk the Kool-Aid, it is often too late.*

Now, I am not saying everyone who is lonely is among the more strident members of society. I am saying people who are lonely, disenfranchised, downtrodden, etc. are more susceptible to being wooed into a way of thinking which is inconsistent with their values.

With so many avenues for misinformation and disinformation, it takes an effort to stay truly informed. It takes an effort to know when smoke is being blown up a lower extremity. It takes an effort to say, I don’t believe you to someone who is paying attention to you in a day where not many do.

I was watching a movie where a lonely woman, defined as mousy in the plot summary, falls in love with a narcissistic jerk she works with. He pays attention to her and treats her nicely some of the time, but he makes you cringe with how he treats her most of the time. In the end, after she has had enough, long after a less lonely person would have, her one friend summed it up saying you fell in love with an a**hole.

We need to avoid the a**holes whenever we can. Sometimes it is hard to do, when the a**holes are giving you attention you don’t often get. Especially when it is a group of them.

*Note: I use this reference often but the term drinking the Kool-Aid references how Jim Jones, a famous cult leader, got his believers to kill themselves en masse – he poisoned their Kool-Aid. Many believed in his message so much, they knowingly drank the poison.

Harry Chapin made it “A Better Place to Be” – a reprise

Writing a comment on Deborah’s blog reminded me of an old post about a terrific songwriter and storyteller who left us way too early. Here is a reprise about Harry Chapin.

Like Jim Croce, another favorite story-telling songwriter of mine, Harry Chapin also left our world much too soon. Chapin died on July 16, 1981 of cardiac arrest that occurred either before or after a car accident on his way to perform a free concert at Eisenhower Park. He was only 38 years old. He never had the huge popular success that many performers crave, yet I don’t think that was his motivation. He wrote very meaningful songs which usually told stories or had lessons for us all. And, he was one of us – a guy we wanted to hang out with and let him regale us with his stories.

If your ever saw or heard him in concert, he was equally known for his story-telling between the songs. He would very often share how this weird story came to be, many that actually came from true events. One of my favorite songs of his – “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” is actually based on the true story of how he met his wife, Sandy, when she hired Chapin as her music teacher. Their family consisted of five children (two together and her three children from a previous marriage).  In fact, his most popular song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” was based on a poem Sandy had written about her childhood, but a lesson for her husband and all of us fathers – “when you comin home Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Son, you know will have a good time then.” As we all know, the Dad/ Son are switched at the end  “as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

His first big hit was “Taxi” about a man who wanted to be a pilot and is now driving a taxi. He picks up a fare that turns out to be his ex-girlfriend who wanted to be an actress. It is a very melancholy song to which we all can relate. Other favorites include “W.O.L.D” about an old disk jockey who has seen better days and “Thirty Pounds of Bananas” about a funny trucking disaster that spilled boxed bananas everywhere. Yet, my two favorites are vintage Harry Chapin. I will save the best for last, as it appears in this title.

One of my two favorites is called “Mr. Tanner” which is a song about a man who loved to sing while he worked. And, all the shopkeepers nearby loved to hear him sing. Yet, when they encouraged him to perform, the critics were not as kind. As Chapin points out…

“But, music was his life, it was not his livelihood. And, it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And, he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole.”

You find yourself pulling for this man and are so heartbroken that his joy of singing was shattered. At the end, he only sang softly, so no one could hear him.

My favorite, though, is “A Better Place to Be.” It is a story about loneliness, a midnight watchman and a rotund waitress. The watchman tells the waitress his story as she says “I know I’m not no beauty queen, but I sure can listen good.” He tells how he met this beautiful lonely girl who, surprising to him, agrees to come home with him because “I’m goin nowhere and anywhere is a better place to be.”  After the most memorable night of is life, he leaves to get breakfast and when he returns, finds she has left, shattering his dreams.

The waitress dries tears from her eyes and eventually says “I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind. And, I wish I weren’t so Goddamn fat, I wish that you were mine. And, I wish you’d come with me, when I leave for home; for we both know all about emptiness, and livin all alone.” After he finishes his last sip, he says “And, I know we both have been so lonely. And, if you want me to come with you, then that’s alright with me. Cause I know I’m goin nowhere, and anywhere is a better place to be.”

This is one of the most true to life, heartfelt songs you will ever hear. The song has many nuances and flavors. I hope I have given you taste of the genius of Harry Chapin. But, let me not stop there. On top of all of his storytelling songs and performances, Chapin was also a humanitarian. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work on ending hunger in the US and abroad. He started an organization called “Long Island Cares” to combat hunger there and in 1977, Jimmy Carter asked him to be on a Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

So, through his songs and through his actions, Chapin told us how to make this world “a better place to be.” His epitaph is taken from his song “I Wonder What Would Happen to the World” and reads: “Oh, if man tried, to take time on Earth. And, prove before he died. What one man’s life could be worth. I wonder what would happen to the world.”  Harry, you live well beyond your 38 years. You keep on teaching us. You made the Earth “a better place to be.” Thank you.

This is a long video of Chapin singing “A Better Place to Be,” but grab some tissue, it is well worth it.

a better place to be harry chapin – Bing

All the lonely people – let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby

One of my favorite songs by The Beatles is one about lonely people – “Eleanor Rigby” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney with Paul singing the lead and John singing a haunting echo that rounds out the song. The song highlights two lonely people, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, who meet each other at the very end of Rigby’s life as McKenzie is the only one attending her funeral. Here are the lyrics:

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream

Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near

Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?

We are a lonely lot of beings. It is only when we reach out to others, do we alter this fact. I am afraid we are becoming more alone as we become more disconnected. Michael Gerson’s column earlier this week introduced me to Robert Putnam, a Harvard Sociologist, who Gerson hopes is wrong about his findings. What are they? Putnam has done research on the rising individualism which has liberated us from social commitments. His data goes back to the 1990s.

What Putnam has discovered through an analysis of this data is we are shunning attendance at various social outings such as church services, bowling leagues, Moose lodges, company picnics and parties, etc. We have cocooned more by choice and now are more inclined to be less civil.  He also notes the trend is not distributed equally, as the working class is the group that has become more disconnected. He notes upper and middle class parents are continuing to introduce their kids to more social avenues, but others are suffering and it abets income inequality. He notes social connectedness is a strong predictor of later success whether it is test scores, college attendance or income.

In addition to other measures, he encourages having healthier community institutions and engaging families to participate more. He encourages stronger family units through birth control to prevent early pregnancies and permit better family planning. He also encourages more economic leveling approaches which will help those on the bottom end make a decent living. I would add a comment I have heard in my work with impoverished people – we need to build off community assets. For example, each community should have a vibrant public school or public park that is inviting of extracurricular activities for the students, parents and other citizens. These become community centers. As communities are improved, we need to allow for safe and inviting public gathering places that will attract events, meetings, etc.

And, we need to unplug and get out. Social media has enabled us to share and reach out to far more people, but it can also make us loners. Let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby’s and Father McKenzie’s. Let’s get out and meet and greet each other. It is the best way to stop the loneliness.

 

Harry Chapin made it “A Better Place to Be”

Like Jim Croce, another favorite story-telling songwriter of mine, Harry Chapin also left our world much too soon. Chapin died on July 16, 1981 of cardiac arrest that occurred either before or after a car accident on his way to perform a free concert at Eisenhower Park. He was only 38 years old. He never had the huge popular success that many performers crave, yet I don’t think that was his motivation. He wrote very meaningful songs which usually told stories or had lessons for us all. And, he was one of us – a guy we wanted to hang out with and let him regale us with his stories.

If your ever saw or heard him in concert, he was equally known for his story-telling between the songs. He would very often share how this weird story came to be, many that actually came from true events. One of my favorite songs of his – “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” is actually based on the true story of how he met his wife, Sandy, when she hired Chapin as her music teacher. Their family consisted of five children (two together and her three children from a previous marriage).  In fact, his most popular song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” was based on a poem Sandy had written about her childhood, but a lesson for her husband and all of us fathers – “when you comin home Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Son, you know will have a good time then.” As we all know, the Dad/ Son are switched at the end  “as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

His first big hit was “Taxi” about a man who wanted to be a pilot and is now driving a taxi. He picks up a fare that turns out to be his ex-girlfriend who wanted to be an actress. It is a very melancholy song to which we all can relate. Other favorites include “W.O.L.D” about an old disk jockey who has seen better days and “Thirty Pounds of Bananas” about a funny trucking disaster that spilled boxed bananas everywhere. Yet, my two favorites are vintage Harry Chapin. I will save the best for last, as it appears in this title.

One of my two favorites is called “Mr. Tanner” which is a song about a man who loved to sing while he worked. And, all the shopkeepers nearby loved to hear him sing. Yet, when they encouraged him to perform, the critics were not as kind. As Chapin points out…

“But, music was his life, it was not his livelihood. And, it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And, he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole.”

You find yourself pulling for this man and are so heartbroken that his joy of singing was shattered. At the end, he only sang softly, so no one could hear him.

My favorite, though, is “A Better Place to Be.” It is a story about loneliness, a midnight watchman and a rotund waitress. The watchman tells the waitress his story as she says “I know I’m not no beauty queen, but I sure can listen good.” He tells how he met this beautiful lonely girl who, surprising to him, agrees to come home with him because “I’m goin nowhere and anywhere is a better place to be.”  After the most memorable night of is life, he leaves to get breakfast and when he returns, finds she has left, shattering his dreams.

The waitress dries tears from her eyes and eventually says “I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind. And, I wish I weren’t so Goddamn fat, I wish that you were mine. And, I wish you’d come with me, when I leave for home; for we both know all about emptiness, and livin all alone.” After he finishes his last sip, he says “And, I know we both have been so lonely. And, if you want me to come with you, then that’s alright with me. Cause I know I’m goin nowhere, and anywhere is a better place to be.”

This is one of the most true to life, heartfelt songs you will ever hear. The song has many nuances and flavors. I hope I have given you taste of the genius of Harry Chapin. But, let me not stop there. On top of all of his storytelling songs and performances, Chapin was also a humanitarian. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work on ending hunger in the US and abroad. He started an organization called “Long Island Cares” to combat hunger there and in 1977, Jimmy Carter asked him to be on a Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

So, through his songs and through his actions, Chapin told us how to make this world “a better place to be.” His epitaph is taken from his song “I Wonder What Would Happen to the World” and reads: “Oh, if man tried, to take time on Earth. And, prove before he died. What one man’s life could be worth. I wonder what would happen to the world.”  Harry, you live well beyond your 38 years. You keep on teaching us. You made the Earth “a better place to be.” Thank you.