Oh, Danny Boy
As a young child, upon hearing the song “Danny Boy” I would almost immediately devolve into a sobbing, tearful, emotional mess. Perhaps it was the way it was sung, often by my mother and a host of Irish relatives, some immigrant, some first generation. I hadn’t been alive long enough to understand the connection between music, lyric, and story. I just felt the melancholy, hope, and fatalism of the song. I was an old soul in a young body.
A lot has changed in the sixty or so years since my small boy heart cracked and shook to that particular song, but the visceral response to a powerful lyric still stops me in the same way.
On a recent Sunday morning, I was in the kitchen going through my customary breakfast-making, waiting for Jan to return from her socially distanced church service. I was in a reflective mood, asking Alexa to play a series of songs that popped into my head, and as often happens, one led to another. I noticed my playlist featured three songs that, in some way, brought me back to Danny Boy boulevard.
Each song spoke in an intimate, conversational style, artfully using short, powerful lines that put the listener in the same place as the writer.
Within each of these stories live short verses that are stunning in their simplicity and emotional depth.
“Keep Me In Your Heart For A While” is the last song on Warren Zevon’s final album “The Wind,” written and recorded as he was losing his battle with cancer. It is a gentle call for remembrance, and a bit of a promise that his spirit will remain part of the woman he loved. These lines get me every time.
Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while
“Red Dirt Girl” is a heartbreaking story wrapped in a gorgeous sonic bed of guitars, bass, percussion, and atmospheric production, channeled through Emmylou’s otherworldly voice. It tells the story of a girl named Lillian, delivered by her best friend. Lillian’s life was not easy or joyful, and the tragedy of it all was not her death, but the life she endured. The short bridge contains Lillian’s truth.
One thing they don’t tell you about the blues
When you got ’em
You keep on fallin’ ’cause there ain’t no bottom
There ain’t no end at least not for Lillian
“Moonlight Motel” from Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars album, gives me Danny Boy level shivers. It is a complex emotional recipe of loss, remembrance, wistfulness, and acceptance. His description of the fading motel drew such a vivid picture that I was right there, standing next to the storyteller, seeing what time and life had done to a cherished and sacred place.
Now the pool’s filled with empty, eight-foot deep
Got dandelions growin’ up through the cracks in the concrete
Chain-link fence half-rusted away
Got a sign says “Children be careful how you play”
Bonus Cut – Puccini
It is opera. It is in Italian. I don’t speak Italian. It doesn’t matter. The passion, the lush orchestrations. The angst of Tosca channeled by the great Angela Gheorghiu. This one endures.
In the hour of pain,
Nell’ora del dolore,
Why, why, Lord,
Perché, perché, Signore,
Ah, why do you pay me so?
Ah, perché me ne rimuneri così?
And One For The Road
I am eagerly awaiting the release of “Hymn For The Underground” from my son John’s band Original Son. He continues to amaze me with his insightful, defiant, and powerful lyrics. I call this one a Punk Rock Pep Talk that acknowledges and encourages the everyday people who “make the gears turn.” It is glorious!
You’re not replaceable
And they can’t walk on water
We are the ones who make the gears turn…
You are glorious.