|[a] Journey's end RF|
Let me explain. In the course of my lectures on Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin', I learn as much about my audiences as I do about country music and East Asian poetry. It may seem hard to believe that people would show up to such lectures in the first place, but they have been well attended over the two decades I have given them. Many songs elicit predictable reactions. "I'd Be Better Off in a Pine Box" certainly finds no one smiling, while "Coal Miner's Daughter" livens up a crowd every time. "He Stopped Loving Her Today" breaks the audience in two—usually along ragged generational and experiential lines.
Take a listen, and see how it strikes you.
For advice on how best to "engage" the lyrics, click here.
He Stopped Loving Her Today Live 4:16
He Stopped Loving Her Today Live 4:15
He Stopped Loving Her Today
Artist: George Jones
Songwriters: R.V. Braddock and C. Putnam Jr.
He said I'll love you 'til I die
She told him you'll forget in time
As the years went slowly by
She still preyed upon his mind
He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she'd come back again
Kept some letters by his bed
He had underlined in red
Every single "I love you"
I went to see him just today
Oh but I didn't see no tears
All dressed up to go away
First time I'd seen him smile in years
He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today
You know she came to see him one last time
Oh and we all wondered if she would
And it kept running through my mind
This time he's over her for good
This time he's over her for good.
If it were that simple, I would have left it there. I might well have said "Here we have a serious song delivered on the very margin between weightiness and play." Enough said, and I might have moved on.
But no, that is not it...that is not it at all.
|[b] Visceral PD|
I will share an example. Many years ago, at a far away location, I gave my Hurtin' lecture and played this song about halfway through my presentation. As (generally younger) voices chuckled over the irony of it all, I noticed a figure in the front row—a very prominent leader at the institution—wracked with sobs. Moments earlier, she had seemed to enjoy Jones's seemingly lighthearted telling. Suddenly, her world turned dark.
Although the worst of it passed that day, I gave serious consideration to dropping the song from my lecture repertoire. My concerns grew greater still when, weeks later, a signally tough, "real men don't cry" coach at another location...did, and hard.
I have "solved" the lecture problem since then by pretty much giving the song away—stripping the first listen of all surprise—before playing it. I realize that I am undercutting much of the drama, but it helps to keep the audience in the right frame of mind for what will follow (more pain and misery balanced carefully on this side of despair).
Still, the varied reactions to this particular song strike me as worthy of further consideration. The fault lines, so to speak, are not merely generational. Over the years, as many young people have found it to be distressing as older people have found it to be funny or at least ironic. Experience plays into this, it seems. The sixteen year old who just went through a breakup might be more vulnerable than the sixty year old who has seen a great deal and developed a patina of emotional resistance.
Still, let's not kid ourselves. Over the years, the vast majority of sadness has been expressed in my audiences by people over, say forty years of age. Although any reasonable reader and listener of that age (or beyond) can recognize the rhetoric of irony without difficulty, certain images—and lyrics—hit hard anyway. This song seems to be capable of eliciting each reaction, and sometimes at the same time. And voilà, that is why it is a masterpiece of its genre.
|[c] Allure RF|
Liu Yong's lyric speaks of longing—for home (he is in the southland of Ch'u) and for his love. Later readers would also read it as a resonant cri de coeur from the still-flourishing Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) into the eardrums of later centuries, when the very homeland evoked in Liu's poem would be torn asunder by various northern conquerors. Here, it is just the distant notes of a Tartar whistle; a century later it would be war...and loss.
Tune: "Prelude to Allure Goddesses"
Liu Yong (fl. mid-eleventh century)
a leaf this boat, its light sail rolled
lies moored by the Ch'u's south bank
as dusk descends on the lonely wall, the post horn
draws mournful notes like those of a Tartar whistle
the waters vast
wild geese on flat sand
settle, startled, scatter
mist gathers in the cold woods
the painted screen is spread
horizon's far, the mountains small
like faintly traced eyebrows.
old joys cast off lightly
I'm here to seek an official post
but weary of this journeying
and the waning year
the manners and the sights of this strange place
are desolate and mournful
the eyes despair
the capital's far away
the towers of Ch'in cut off,
the soul of a traveler dismayed
the fragrant grass spreads in
and the evening glow spreads
no news of her,
a few broken clouds
—Translated by Jerome P. Seaton
|[d] Reflection RF|
Liu Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.
Sunday, October 30th
I Fall to Pieces
Patsy Cline. We continue our tour of the icons of country music, with a few doses of misery and emotional pain along the way.