Considering that I’m now more than 40 songs into this project, perhaps it’s surprising that this is the first song on the list that has been mentioned by a reader. It probably won’t be the last, but there has been almost no overlap among my choices and readers’, or among the various readers’ songs — a further demonstration of how much good music is out there, and of how different songs touch different people in different ways.
When I was a kid riding a hay slip (basically a sled pulled behind a hay baler), I’d sing to myself throughout the long, hot, dusty and solitary hours. Most of the time I sang songs by either Kris Kristofferson or Jim Croce. As it happened, Joanna was also a Croce fan when we met.
Though we were at different stages in life when we married, the line, “I’ve looked around enough to know that you’re the one I want to go through time with” fit both of us at the time. And the line, “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do when you find them” only becomes more true as we age.
“Time in a Bottle” lyrics here, with video below:
“Suicide is Painless”? Now there’s a song title for a love song, huh? But of course songs such as “Barrytown,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Cows with Guns,” “Yellow Ribbon,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “House of the Rising Son,” “Fishin’ Blues,” “The Entertainer” and “Gonna Be an Engineer” wouldn’t be considered love songs by most people. They just happen to mean something to us — or more accurately, to me, in relation to my marriage.
I suspect that few people know the words to “Suicide is Painless” — though at one time most Americans probably would have recognized the melody from “M*A*S*H,” perhaps the best television show of all time. Before that, “M*A*S*H” was a novel and then a Robert Altman film. (Altman’s teenage son reportedly wrote the lyrics for Oscar-winner Johnny Mandel’s song in less than five minutes.) I wasn’t a big fan of the film, but the show evolved into a television masterpiece that brought love, humor, pathos and human stupidity to millions of Americans on a weekly basis in the 1970s.
“M*A*S*H,” set in the Korean War but about the Vietnam War, was the first show that Joanna and I regularly watched together. The final episode came two years after we were married; we watched it at a viewing party with a group of now-forgotten friends. At that time, the episode was the most-watched show in history. More Americans watched it than saw that year’s Super Bowl.
The show also became more meaningful to us because we appreciated the fact that star Alan Alda was an early male feminist who gave us one of Joanna’s favorite expressions for why I do some of the things I do: “testosterone poisoning.” Co-star Mike Farrell was a political activist (and a nice guy in person, as we found out when we met him at a party in Moscow, Idaho), and the activities of Alda and Farrell make up for the fact that the guy Farrell replaced on the show, Wayne Rogers, turned out to be a Fox News idiot (and perhaps another “family-values” hypocrite).
“Suicide is painless” has been covered by various artists, including Marilyn Manson, the Manic Street Preachers and Lady & Bird (my favorite version). The show offered different versions over the years, some with lyrics, but the instrumental version below has probably been heard by the most people. The video includes stills from the TV show:
I’m not even sure I like the message of this song, for the same reason I dislike the seemingly vast number of anniversary cards with a message that goes something like, “I sure love you, even though I don’t tell you enough.” My automatic mental response to those cards is, “So why don’t you tell her/him more often, rather than trying to do it once a year with a cheap card?”
Likewise, this song is a bit of a cliché for any performer (or politician or artist or teacher or anyone else who becomes known by many) ; after all, most professional performers are the ones in their relationships who get the “glory” from outside sources. But a cliché becomes one for a reason, and in fact the song rings true for Joanna and me.
In our case, it largely rings true for both of us. Though I’m the extrovert and now more often in the public eye, we have constantly supported each other’s goals and dreams throughout our marriage. When that meant ignoring an advisor’s recommendation for where to go to grad school, staying put so that Joanna could finish her master’s degree and we could avoid a long-distance marriage, I did it. When it meant traveling across the country for my job, she did it.
When it meant giving up a tenure-track job to move back and take a one-year position because of issues with her family, I did it. And when it meant doing the vast majority of cooking and cleaning while I’m doing a job I love, in large part so we can spend more free time together, she did it — and continues to do it. We’ve seen many academic marriages fail or go on autopilot, while ours is as strong as it’s ever been.
Lyrics here, with live-version video below:
The first famous musician I ever saw live in concert was Charlie Pride. That was during the 1974 World’s Fair (Expo ’74); I was still in high school and could not have imagined that my future wife and I would someday live in the same city where I saw him perform.
I spent much of the next summer bucking hay bales for a farmer that seemed to have only one 8-track tape in his Chevy pickup (which also had a cool horn that sounded like a mooing cow). That tape was of Charlie Pride and featured this short song. I quickly memorized it — and which I still try to take to heart in my marriage.
Lyrics here, with video below:
Her Motown group provided many hits that we have sung along with, and which I might have shared here. One of my favorite Diana Ross songs is “Do You Know Where You’re Going To,” from the not-very-good 1975 movie “Mahogany.” Coincidentally, that was also the “class song” when I graduated from high school.
But the Ross song that most exemplifies how I feel about Joanna and our marriage is, without a doubt, “The Best Years of My Life.”
Lyrics here, with video below:
Joanna has accused me of going into teaching so I would have a captive audience, and has also said that my most redeeming quality may be that I keep her entertained (laughing with me more often than at me, I trust). But this song makes the list for a different reason.
I don’t remember how it came about, but early on in our marriage we joked that each of us could openly lust after one person other than each other. The only rule: That other person had to be an unattainable celebrity that we would likely never meet, let alone attract (in the unlikely event that we even found the celebrities to be attractive as real people — most of those we’ve met have tended to be rather shallow and dull).
Joanna’s chose actor (I’ll share mine with the next post) was witty, charming, and socially conscious actor and race car driver Paul Newman. He wasn’t a singer, of course — though chances are, he could have done that, too — but he starred in one of our favorite movies, “The Sting.” That movie featured a Marvin Hamlisch adaptation of this Scott Joplin ragtime piano classic.
There are no lyrics, but a video (featuring scenes from the film) is below:
No story of our marriage could leave out the fact that we spent a couple of years in North Carolina — a beautiful state with some of the most screwed-up politics in America. It also was a long way away from our families and the climate we like best, neither of us found ideal jobs, and we were troubled by the overt racism common in the town where we lived for much of the time, so it wasn’t our favorite two years.
But James Taylor is one of Joanna’s favorite performers. And I suspect that he only way she will willingly go back to North Carolina in in her mind.
Lyrics here, with video below:
Perhaps it seems to easy, too much of a cliché, to include this song. After all, it might apply to any couple in love that has been through some challenges (in other words, pretty much any couple in love).
Perhaps so, but it’s a great song. Written and performed first by Dolly Parton, many people became familiar with it because of the film, “The Bodyguard.” Joanna and I both liked the film, and probably not just because I may have once had a thing for Whitney Houston while she may have once had a thing for Kevin Costner. (After all, she’s the only person I know who actually considered “Waterworld” to be a good film.)
Previously on this blog I included my favorite hymn, and have noted Joanna’s fondness for animals. Her favorite animal is deer, so perhaps it’s not probably not surprising that “As the Deer” is her favorite “church song.” It was written by a fellow Washington resident, Martin Nystrom, in the same year that Joanna and I were married.
I’ve played and watched sports my entire life. Joanna played some softball and basketball as a kid — and we played together on an intramural co-ed softball team that won back-to-back summer championships — but she has always opposed most kinds of competition and has never been much of a fan of any sports team. That is, until I ruined her life several years ago by helping turn her into a Seattle Mariners fan.
We watch a lot of M’s games on television, and occasionally we make it over to the wet side of the state for a game at Safeco Field. Most of the time we’re disappointed by the outcome (which perhaps calls into question why we keep watching), and all too often the game has been decided before the crowd stands to sing this song during the seventh-inning stretch. (Late Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Carey is credited with starting the tradition of singing the song at ball games.)
In fact, Joanna had heard me sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” many times before we ever went to a major league game. The song was my go-to lullaby for each of our grandchildren. They seemed to like it, and some of my favorite memories involve late-night rocking of Brooke or Joe while softly singing about baseball. Besides, it was no more inappropriate than the Kitty Wells tune my father says he sung to me, and I turned out mostly OK.
Most fans probably don’t know that we’re singing just the chorus (or that the proper term is “cracker jack,” not “Cracker Jacks”). You can see the complete lyrics and some history for both the 1908 version and the 1927 version of the Jack Norworth song here. Hear what may be the earliest recording of the song (with complete 1908 lyrics about a lass named Katie Casey who naturally “told the umpire he was wrong”), sung by Harvey Hindermyer (often misspelled “Hindermeyer”), below: