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“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 6, 2013

I’m feeling a little melancholy right now.  I heard yesterday that my mother’s brother-in-law, widower of her younger sister, is losing his own battle with cancer.  We haven’t talked with him or either of my cousins yet, but I’m sure things are sad all around.  I haven’t been close to them in many years, but they are family; it hurts to know that people I love are in pain.

Which is what leads up to this sad, sweet little tune.  Nanci Griffith covered John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” for an album of covers called Other Voices, Other Rooms (after the Truman Capote book).  It’s ostensibly a love song, but there’s so much . . . space inside it.  The singer laments the distance between herself and her other half–probably her lover, but there’s a feeling of old friendship that I can’t quite shake.  This song is sad, yes, but it’s also as comfortable as a broken in pair of shoes.  You get the feeling that these people can say anything to each other, but they don’t know how to say what they feel.  Or at least one of them doesn’t.  There’s a yawning gulf between these characters, a gap that maybe they won’t be able to bridge: “So what in the world’s come over you?  What in heaven’s name have you done?  You’ve broken the speed of the sound of loneliness.  You’re out there runnin’ just to be on the run.”

This video reminds me very much of Wim Wenders’ brilliant, beautiful film Wings of Desire.  The plot of the film is that an angel has fallen in love with a trapeze artist, and wishes to fall to Earth to be with her.  Most of the film is him talking about the ramifications of that choice with another angel.  But there is a subplot involving the wonderful Peter Falk.  I don’t want to give away too much, for fear of spoiling it, but it is a magical thing that gives the bleak German landscape a sense of hope.

This clip almost gives it away (but not quite); it also echoes the song’s subtext.  There is more to life than being lonely and alone.  There is coffee and cigarettes.  There is good food and good conversation.  There is art and beauty, and there is war and ugliness.  There is the touch of a friend.  The unspoken message is all too clear: Stop running.  Whatever’s chasing you can’t be as bad as letting the world slip away.


2 Responses to ““Speed of the Sound of Loneliness””

  1. indytony said

    Beautiful post. I saw Nancy Griffith open for John Prine at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis back in 1991. It was a great concert.

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