“The Gravity of the Situation”


This is just such a lovely, lovely song.  And sad.  And hopeful.  Although I don’t know where the hope comes from.  Maybe somewhere deep inside, a wellspring of human spirit that refuses to be defeated in the face of all obstacles.

At first glance, it might not seem like singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt had a lot of reason to be hopeful.  A car accident paralyzed him when he was a teenager, but he retained enough movement in his hands that he could still play guitar.  Chesnutt is one of those musicians that other musicians listen to, but he never really achieved much mainstream success.  His music seems so personal, the emotions and references so private.  He struggled with health problems related to his injuries and the expense of medical care.  (Chesnutt was considered “uninsurable” because of his paralysis.  The ACA would’ve helped him since it makes denying coverage for pre-existing conditions illegal.)  He attempted suicide several times, finally succeeding in 2009.

Thirteen years before his death, a group of musicians got together to record a handful of Chesnutt’s songs for Sweet Relief, an organization that helps musicians without insurance receive the medical care they need and deserve.  (The Chesnutt tribute was the second charity album they released, the first one being 1993’s compilation benefiting Victoria Williams.  Both are titled Sweet Relief.)  That’s where the Nanci Griffith-Hootie & the Blowfish version of “The Gravity of the Situation” comes from.  Chesnutt’s version is just as good. (Arguably better, since it’s his song, but I came to it through the cover, so that’s always going to be my preference.)  I don’t know anything about the origins of this song, or if it’s based on any real people or incidents from Chesnutt’s life.  I only know it feels me with sadness and hope whenever I hear it.


“Hard Times Come Again No More”


My life is not poor.  I have economic stability, a good roof over my head, and support if I need it.  Stephen Foster wrote this song about poverty, and the fear and heartache it brings to people who’s only crime is to not have enough of anything.  But the feeling of the hard times he wrote about resonates with any troubles a body might be having.  And goodness knows, I’ve had my troubles this year.

This has been the hardest year I’ve ever known.  I know many of you have had hard times this year.  May all our hard times come again no more.

Happy New Year to you all.

“Morning Song for Sally”


This song fits my mood right now.  Somber, quiet, sad.

I had a bad day again today.  I sat down to tutor my shift, and the first essay I got was a daughter writing about her father and his death.  Well, needless to say, I completely lost it.  I couldn’t stop crying for quite some time.  I basically forced one of the cats to sit in my lap (“Mama needs a snuggle, Sasha.”)  I even carried my teddy bear around for a while, because I didn’t feel very much like a grown-up right then; I felt like a little girl who wanted her daddy.

“Morning Song for Sally” is about mourning a lost lover, but it’s the same feeling I’ve got.  I can’t say everything I’m feeling.  I don’t really want to.  Besides my need to be private about these things (because publishing on the Internet is sooooo private), my feelings are still muddled.  Probably always will be.  I’m okay with that; I have a surprising tolerance for ambiguity.

Anyway, I need to stop now.  It’s getting to me again.  Thanks for listening.

“For my waking thoughts of you are but extensions of the dream.  And without you here beside me I’ll never know all that they mean.”

“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”


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.

“Goodnight to a Mother’s Dream”


My Mother’s Day song, a day late.

Nanci Griffith has one of those lovely voices, clear like a cloudless summer day.  It’s a sort of love song from a daughter to her mother, a single woman who’s “got love enough for two, but it’s just me and this old moon.”  Her mother gave her strength and intelligence, but she is lonely without companionship.  She feels she has led her life living out her mother’s dreams instead of her own, “got a bank full of mother’s dreams.  Maybe Mother just didn’t see that love would be the only thing her daughter would ever need.”  It’s such a lovely and wistful song, full of the ambivalence this woman feels.  She loves her mother, and she’s proud of the life she’s built, but she wants someone to share it with.

As a single woman, I’ve always identified with this song to some degree.  I know there’s a lot of things my mother wanted for me: marriage, children, a home of my own, etc.  It’s what the woman in this song wants, but she’s “as plain as plain can be” while “the sailors on the water all want the captain’s daughter” (presumably the pretty girl who always gets all the attention).  I’ve always felt plain; I know I’m not unattractive, but I’ve never felt like I was all that beautiful.  (Bruce Springsteen described me to a T in “Thunder Road”: “You ain’t a beauty, but, hey, you’re all right.”)  It bothered me more when I was younger.  As I’ve gotten older, I find myself less worried about it.  Or maybe I’ve just learned to love myself the way I am.  And it’s not that I haven’t had my chances, romantically speaking; things just didn’t work out that way for me.  I don’t get too wound up about it anymore.  I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to let my relationship status define my life.  If it happened, great.  If it didn’t, that’s great too.  I’m still happy, I still have a good life.  Love is indeed all you need, but the nicest thing about love is that it comes in many, many forms.  Friends, family, pets, music, whatever.  (Funny, I was meditating recently, and my guardian angel told me all I need is music, books, and cats.  Sounds kinda nice.)  There’s love wherever you turn, you just have to look for it.

“I am the heart not taken, the one thought not worth breaking.  I am the late blooming rose, with only a mother’s dream to hold.  On this road less travelled, who really knows.  Maybe the hearts not taken are truly made of gold.”

Now if only I could turn that golden heart into cash.  Then I’d really be set.