For legions of older folks pining to reawaken some of the horse laughs they remember listening to the bleeding heart love songs of their time, the internet phenomenon of YouTube has come charging to the rescue.
They don’t write songs any more like “Somebody Else is Taking My Place.”
Somebody else is taking my place,
Somebody else now shares your embrace;
While I am trying to keep from crying,
You go around with a smile on your face.
Little you know the price I have paid,
Little you care for vows that you made;
My heart is aching, soon will be breaking,
For somebody’s taking my place.
I mean that is major league misery.
Consider the insomnia inflicted on us ancients who grew up listening to old Tex Ritter wailing:
I'm walking the floor over you
I can't sleep a wink that is true
The truth is there are millions of Americans pining to hear it again from the safe haven of retirement.
The harsh reality is that today you’re not likely to hear Justin Bieber, closing his eyes in a moment of silent suffering, choking the microphone close to his teeth and telling you he’s “hopin’ and a prayin’ till my heart breaks right in two.”
So if you were reared in the tradition of genuine pain of unrequited love the old fashioned way —heartbreak by the numbers – your one sure refuge today is YouTube. Consider the irony. YouTube is one of the spectacular successes on the ultra-21st Century internet, making millions in part by offering a refuge to geezers out of the 1930s and 1940s. It’s your only remaining link with music when it understood good old fashioned despair.
One thing I learned years ago about today’s cast-of-thousands, microphone-under-the-nose singing marvels, those who perform in front of 80,000 partially soused Super Bowl audiences: it doesn’t give you much of a shot at good old fashioned brooding if you’re looking for pop music as a bailout from reality.
So for somebody who grew up in the 1930s and 40s, and a little after, nothing compared with the music of those times for pure agony and originality among the losers in love.
In those years one of the most popular practitioners of that mournful art was a men’s quartet called “The Ink Spots,” a talented African American group head by a marvelous high tenor named Bill Kenny. While his partners hummed the accompaniment Bill Kenny would softly wail:
I don't want to set the world on fire
I just want to start a flame in your heart
It got better with the years. There was an Ink Spots tune called “Whispering Grass,” which railed against heartless gossip inflicted by wild nature itself in spreading the secrets of departed lovers who, well, made out in the shade.
Why do you whisper, green grass?
Why tell the trees what ain't so?
Whispering grass, the trees
Don't have to know, no, no
Why tell them all your secrets?
Who kissed there long ago?
Whispering grass, the trees
Don't need to know
From there the conspiracy spread through the woods, betraying the departed lovers.
Don't you tell it to the breeze
'Cause they will tell the birds and bees
And everyone will know
Because you told the blabbering trees
Yes, you told them once before
It's no secret any more
The lovesick Ted Lewis with his cane and top hat would walk up a stairway with an invisible companion to share his misery. His destination was the apartment of a lover long gone:
And when it's twelve o'clock we climb the stairs
We never knock 'cause nobody's there
Just me and my shadow
All alone and feeling blue
That is misery, folks. In those days there were no counselors, no Oprahs and television doctors or Googles to tell the lovesick what number to call; no GPS marvels to tell them how to get there.
So if you had tribulations in love, there weren’t a whole lot of remedies. One of the few was the wailing wall of their might-have-beens, and it cut across all income and social levels, including the jail house:
Now, if I had the wings of an angel,
Over these prison walls I would fly.
And I'd fly to the arms of my darling,
And there I'd be willing to die.
The titles of those inspired ballads of misery were impossible to match among the songsmiths of today. I mean, how is Justin Bieber going to be credible singing “If The Phone Don’t Ring, It’s Me.” Especially if it took him – in the words of another immortal dirge of another era – all that time to get to Phoenix.
The message here is that if there are times in life when you get worn out by all of the solicitations on the internet, or on the phone or in the mail, dial up the Ink Spots on YouTube:
I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Agreed, there’s no deep profundity there. But it does take your mind off election campaigns, global warming and the public cost of hosting all-star games.