Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Best Sad Song

Sad songs can be hard to like. Like coffee, they are an acquired taste. And I ask myself sometimes, why would someone work to acquire a taste for something that's hard to like?

I like the song "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" a lot. It's off the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack, but it barely figures into that movie, so don't worry about that connection. Instead, focus on the song itself.

It's about love, of course, and Maria McKee, the singer, is singing it to someone she loved who was her angel but is now "real." Maria wails about how "the morning after, you know what you bring," and then requests "if love is a red dress, then hang me in rags."

Here's the entire lyrics:

My heart is empty.
Your eyes are dark.
Once we were hungry,
Now we are full.
These chains that bind us,
Can't beat these chains.
If love is shelter,I'm gonna walk in the rain.
You were my angel.
Now, you are real.
So like a stranger,
Colder than steel.
The morning after,
You know what you bring.
If love is a red dress,Well, hang me in rags.
There goes the fairy tale.
Lord, ain't it a shame?
In all this comfort,
I can't take the strain.
If we played even,
I'd be your queen.
But someone was cheatin'.
And it wasn't me.
I've laid it on the table,
You had something back.
If love is Aces, Give me the Jack.

That doesn't capture the whole feel of it, though. The words are only half the song, because they make clear what's going on: the singer has lost at love, and lost so badly that she doesn't want it, and rejects it-- or cannot have it at all: If love is shelter, I'm gonna walk in the rain.

Maria McKee does a beautiful job of putting music to those words; she accompanies it with a sparse acoustic guitar, and whistling, and her voice wails as she sings it.

And the whole effect is one of unbearable, crushing, tear-rending sadness -- it can almost bring me to tears.

So why do I love this song so much? Why can I listen to it over and over and over? Why did I acquire this taste?

Because it's not me singing the song and it's not me the song is aimed at. That's the hidden beauty and allure of sad songs: they are not my life. No matter what is going on in my life, it is not so bad as the singer's life in "Red Dress."

I can listen to "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" when I'm in a good mood, and happy, and things are going well, and it makes me appreciate what's going on in my life. It adds depth and resonance to what I'm doing, because it is the down times in life that make us appreciate the up times.

More importantly, I can listen to "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" when I'm down, and things are not going well, and it will make me appreciate my life more, because, as I said, this song is not my life. I have never had anything so bad happen to me that makes me think I would be better off walking in the rain than in shelter. I've never ended up in rags instead of finery.

I've never had my angels turn real. Listening to this song reminds me of the fact that no matter how badly I might be feeling at the moment, my angels remain angels. I need to be reminded of that from time to time, and that's why this is The Best Sad Song:

UPDATE: 12/29/08: I just found out the video no longer works, so you can listen to the song HERE.

1 comment:

Pete Smith said...

Hi Briane

Interesting read. Enjoyed the song too.

Sad songs are my specialty. I recorded this sad lament recently, thought you might enjoy listening. A shameless plug ? Yes but it is relevant to your post in as much as it is also a sad song.