Saturday, October 11, 2014

Music for melancholy people

to a young child
"Starry Night over the Rhone" by Vincent Van Gogh

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

"Spring and Fall"
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I don't know if this extends beyond Margaret and me, but autumn — my favorite season — sometimes puts me in a melancholy mood. I know the mood has arrived by the songs that start running through my head.

Paul Simon's 1973 song "American Tune" came to mind this morning. It takes me back to the disillusionment of the early 1970s. I remember listing to it with my mother. She was recently out of a terrible second marriage and I was fresh out of Sixties dreams and working as a writer. This was the era of Watergate, when revelations about the misdeeds of President Nixon filled the headlines. Somehow, probably because it's so lovely, it's long been one of my favorite songs.

Another song that reminds me of autumn is Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going." Tom Rush's version is the one I heard first, and it's still my favorite.

And then there is the classic "Autumn Leaves." Many great singers have sung it, but for the past few years my favorite version has been the one recorded by the late Eva Cassidy.

This last song, "Shenandoah," came out of a distant memory. I've never been to the Shenandoah Valley, so I don't have any direct connection with it. But somehow, the ache for the past is there just like Margaret's mourning.

"You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare agains the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason."
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Late addition for returning readers

My friend Susan Champlin, author of the excellent blog What Would Katherine Hepburn Do? (WWKHD), told me about Bruce Springsteen's version of "Shenandoah." I've fallen in love with it. It is the "Grapes of Wrath" rendition. Give it a listen.