Friday, January 07, 2011

MUSIC: Death Shuffle

I’m sitting here late at night paying some bills and doing some busy work when Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” pops up on my iTunes shuffle. Unexpectedly, I can’t stop listening to it. It’s about a relationship break-up, but there are some devastating lines that go beyond the break-up and I can’t get past them when Dylan sings them the way he sings them. Especially this one: “Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know / But I’ll see you in the sky above / In the tall grass, in the ones I love / Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.”

The more I listen to this 3-minute song, for about 20 minutes now, the more upset I get. I want someone to think this of me when I leave. When I die. To feel the way Dylan obviously feels when he sings these lines. The more I listen to this amazingly complex song, the more people I begin to think of. I think of my mother and my father and my sister and brother—our one time family unit of my childhood memories that has sometimes made me lonesome now that it is gone. I think of my wife leaving me, be it flight or something far more horrible, and it’s a kind of lonesome that hurts in my chest when I hear Dylan sing “I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.” I think of an old girlfriend, and this song breaks my heart the way the teenager in all of us has his heartbroken. And then I’m shocked at the thought of my sons and how I fear the lonesomeness when they go—not away to college, but from this earth with me still here. It’s unbearable. Unbearable.

I can’t listen to this song anymore. I hit advance on my iTunes control panel and am dealt a shuffle knockout punch.

This appeared on his very last album, the one he was making while he knew he was dying of cancer. It’s an acoustic guitar song, obviously a love letter/farewell to the people closest to him. I love Warren Zevon, perhaps one of the most unheralded songwriters of all time. But I can only hear this song at certain times when I know I can handle it. And after Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” I know damn well I can’t handle it. But I listen anyway. Repeatedly.

And it crushes me . . .

“Shadows are falling and I’m running I’m out breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while
When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while”

I immediately think of our fall visit to my father-in-law’s gravesite, the first time I saw the headstone that was placed a year after his death. My wife Carolyn and our boys standing in the chilly air, reflecting for a few moments in our crazy breathless lives on this one gentle man. I’ll be doing this more and more, I recall thinking at the time. Many of my friends have lost parents in the past few years. I’ve been lucky so far, but I know soon enough I will be the one standing at one of my parents’ gravesites, devastated, lonesome, keeping alive that part in my heart.

I keep listening to this beautifully heartrending Zevon song over and over again, piling on in a way, so drippy and weepy that my rational self is getting annoyed but I can’t seem to stop. Why? Why listen again to Zevon singing “Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house / Maybe you'll think of me and smile” when I know each time it will only make me even more sad? I know I will be forced in the coming years to deal with the death of my parents, and some friends, and ultimately with my own “running out of breath.” Now, in my 47th year, sitting here listening to this song over and over, I am more certain and can see more clearly that there is a finite end to the road ahead and that there are some things and people and hopes and dreams that have simply gone by the wayside. Forever. The simple plea Zevon sings about is such a basic human desire—to be connected and remembered—that the weight of its humble request seems unbearable and uplifting all at the same time.

In the picture I have included here, I was 6-years-old, celebrating my brother’s 1st birthday with my 4 year-old sister and my Irish grandparents. (I keep this picture on the wall near my desk.) The house we lived in seemed big to me (it was actually quite modest), and the backyard behind us in the picture seemed MASSIVE to me (it too was modestly sized). The sun is always golden in my memory of these years, and I can’t tell you how many times I tromped and twirled and stomped and leaped around that backyard, conquering monsters, scoring the winning touchdown, or staring out across our yard into the wooded area behind our house, the late afternoon sun streaking across the poplar trees, and dreaming of the planets I would discover or the great soccer player I would be or any number of amazing things I was sure would happen once I got to be a grown up.

Now I’m a grown up. And I sit bleary-eyed at my desk, ignoring the bills I have to pay and loving every second of what these two songs are able to do to me.

Isn’t music amazing?


  1. peter1:39 PM


    you struck a serious chord within me with this writing. today would have been my parents 55th wedding anniversary - i miss them both, but my ma's death was/is particularly hard on me. in my worldview, when people are dead and gone, they never come back but i believe the right thing for me to do is to talk about them and keep their presence around thru stories and sharing of memories and speaking out loud how much i miss them - the temptation is to not talk. we are all getting older and our roster of lost people will continue to grow and for me, there is a deep and complex beauty in missing and grieving while simultaneously celebrating the joy of knowing someone who is gone. anyhow, thanks for the emotional ride this morning - i am learning to cherish varied and rich emotional experiences.


  2. He could not be refering to a women, but maybe a parent. Or Dylan could be refering to both. Double trouble, etc.. Life hits you twice as hard when your down the most..