Like many Fortune 500 companies, Rock NYC has our fair share of corporate rituals. On Monday mornings at 8:00 (not 8:01, my friend), Iman “The Guru” Lababedi gathers the troops and starts the week with a rousing, hand clapping, foot stomping, coyote howling rendition of “We Will Rock You.” I always bring aspirin to work on Mondays. On Tuesday mornings, the Morrissey Shrine Committee meets to discuss suitable artifacts and proper non-dairy homage to the man we all love. That’s a good time to use sick leave. On Thursday afternoons, we have our “Good Cry” meeting, where we discuss our lost loves, crushed dreams, and any terminal illnesses we might have. These are somber affairs. I once excitedly started the meeting by stating that my son had aced his college final in International Relations and Helen Bach backhanded me from Manhattan to Brooklyn. My jaw hurt, but the pizza was still good.
After Iman “The Godfather” Lababedi recently posted his favorite sad songs, he looked me in the eye, gave me his famous Pepsi challenge smile and said, “OK, list boy, it’s your turn now.” Nobody turns down the Godfather. There are two types of songs that might reduce a man with less testosterone than me to tears. One is the traditional heartbreaker, a standard theme in country music. On the other duct, Iris Dement’s “My Life” and Loudon Wainwright III’s version of “Daughter” have the same sob power, but do so by reminding the listener of, as Huey Lewis might say, the power of love. For this list, the “I love you so much it makes my eyes water like spicy Indian food” category will not be included. Enough intro, grab the Kleenex.
12. “The Tracks of My Tears,” The Miracles. Smokey loses the one he loves, pretends not to care, even gets a cute substitute, but the façade can’t overcome his pain.
11. “The Grand Tour,” George Jones. Jones loved nothing more than taking a perfectly good heart and smashing it beyond recognition – his catalogue is filled with aorta abuse (“The Wild Irish Rose,” “Still Doin’ Time,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “The Door,” “A Good Year for the Roses,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” etc., etc., etc.). On “The Grand Tour,” a woman leaves and takes the couple’s baby, while George is left with his empty home and his memories.
10. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon. After receiving a marriage proposal, Carly doesn’t dream about wedding gowns or dodging rice, but instead reflects on the bitterness within her parent’s union and the dissatisfaction in her friends’ marriages. Fearing her suitor will “cage me on your shelf,” Carly agrees to the wedding with less enthusiasm than a Jim Jones Kool-Aid drinker.
9. “Sam Stone,” John Prine. A war vet comes home with emotional and physical damage that is self-medicated with heroin. He ultimately overdoses and is buried on the local heroes’ hill. I’ve never been to a Prine gig, but I’d love to hear a few hundred people sing, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm, where all the money goes.”
8. “Luka,” Suzanne Vega. The answer to the trivia question, “What is the second best child abuse song ever written?”
7. “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman. Tracy places her hopes on escaping generational poverty in a relationship with a man that ends up having the same alcohol issues that her father had. For a fleeting moment in the intoxicating exhilaration of that fast car, she thought that she could “be someone.” Tracy, the nerd that is a wizard with Excel will take you farther than the dude with the slick wheels.
6. “Elephant,” Jason Isbell. A repeat from Iman’s list, no one will ever dance to this 2013 tale about watching a friend and potential lover waste away due to cancer.
5. “Ana Ng,” They Might Be Giants. John Linnell spends decades desperately seeking his soul mate that he knows exists but cannot find. This search gives his life the only meaning it has.
4. “Evie’s Tears,” Freedy Johnston. The answer to the question, “What is the best child abuse song ever written?” How much does Evie hate her nights at home? She begs the moon to disappear.
3. “Hurt,” Johnny Cash. Fending off the graveyard, Johnny Cash knows nothing but his own pain and will leave nothing in his wake but disappointment.
2. “I Want You,” Elvis Costello. An obsessive long song that intersperses the title phrase over two dozen times, Elvis knows that the love of his life cheated on him and now he wants all the gory details. And, he wants her.
1. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Hank Williams. Hank’s heartbreak is so thorough it makes robins weepy and the moon cry. And he sings it with such earnest conviction that you believe every word.
New Wave pop bliss out
I WISH I HADN’T GONE
a time-capsule type of roster
Creem -America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1971 (Volume 3, Number 6)
“Sure, we don’t pay much but then who else do ya know who’ll publish you?”
in the immortal words of Jason Isbell to me at Gov Ball a coupla years ago: “let’s do this…”
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