Deborah tagged me with this question: what are five songs that make you cry, and why?
1. The Town I Loved So Well
Written by Phil Coulter about his hometown of Derry, in Northern Ireland.
In my memory I will always see
the town that I have loved so well
Where our school played ball by the gasyard wall
and we laughed through the smoke and the smell
Going home in the rain, running up the dark lane
past the jail and down behind the fountain
Those were happy days in so many, many ways
in the town I loved so well
But when I returned how my eyes have burned
to see how a town could be brought to its knees
By the armoured cars and the bombed out bars
and the gas that hangs on to every tree
Now the army's installed by that old gasyard wall
and the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher
With their tanks and their guns, oh my God, what have they done
to the town I loved so well
I think we had a recording of The Dubliners singing this one, but I will always hear it in my mother's voice.
Every morning you greet me,
Small and White,
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me..
Blossoms of snow may you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my home land forever
A sweet melody and simple, hopeful lyrics gain an added poignancy when you realize that Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics when he knew he was dying of stomach cancer. This is also a personally meaningful song for me because it's one my father would always request me to sing to him. I don't have a lot of great memories of my father from my childhood, but I loved to sing to him.
3. The Letter from Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim
Most Honorable Judge Turpin
I venture thus to write you this
Urgent note to warn you that the
hot blooded, young sailor
has abducted your ward, Joanna
from the institution where you
so wisely confined her.
But hoping to earn your favor,
I have persuaded the boy to lodge her here tonight
in my tonsorial parlour, in Fleet Street.
If you want her again in your arms
hurry, after the night falls.
She will be waiting. Waiting.
Your obedient humble servant, Sweeney Todd
This piece kills me, just kills me. This is where Todd, who at this point has done some evil deeds but still has your sympathy, crosses the line. His thirst for vengeance is now stronger than his quest for justice. He is willing to betray his daughter, his own flesh and blood, to satiate his desire for vengeance.
And the plaintive phrase, sung by a high tenor voice, on the line She will be waiting...please, find a recording, and listen to it. It is heartbreaking.
4. Winter by Tori Amos
Snow can wait
I forgot my mittens
Wipe my nose
Get my new boots on
I get a little warm in my heart
When I think of winter
I put my hand in my father's glove
I run off
Where the drifts get deeper
Sleeping beauty trips me with a frown
I hear a voice
"Your must learn to stand up for yourself
Cause I can't always be around"
When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do
When you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses are still in bed
I tell you that I'll always want you near
You say that things change my dear
The first time I heard this song was at my youngest sister's spring Pops concert. One of the students in her class sang the song while she accompanied herself on the piano. And I sat in the stuffy school auditorium with tears pouring down my face.
There's no real secret to why this song makes me cry. It's the question When you gonna love you as much as I do. Maybe it won't make me cry anymore when I find the answer to that question.
5. Anyone Can Whistle by Stephen Sondheim
For this song, it is only a specific recording that makes me teary eyed. The recording is from 1973 called Sondheim Evening: A Musical Tribute (aka the Scrabble album). The record features Sondheim singing his own song. Sondheim is not a great singer, as he would be the first to admit, but there is something poignant and so appropriate about the great composer/lyricist singing the sad lyrics about how love might be the most difficult thing we ever attempt.
Anyone can whistle, That's what they say-
Anyone can whistle, Any old day-
It's all so simple:
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me why
I can dance a tango,I can read Greek-
I can slay a dragon Any old week-
What's hard is simple.
What's natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.
I don't know much about Sondheim's love life, but the way he performs the song says that he hadn't figured out how to let go, lower his guard, learn to be free. I find it moving and terribly sad all at once.
This is just scratching the surface of the many, many ways to get me to cry. I'm a soft touch, and I cry a lot, as my children will tell you.