96 Tears

The A.V. Club caused a sensation today with its list of eighteen “Songs That Make The A.V. Club Cry.” It’s been up about 12 hours and has 241 comments. Everybody wants to contribute a list of songs that make them cry. (Only a few people want to pooh-pooh the whole idea, thankfully.)

Rather than putting my personal sob-fests in the comments, I thought I’d list them here. These are songs that I absolutely cannot hear without weeping. In most cases, merely thinking about them is enough to have me reaching for a tissue. In no particular order:

1. Josh Rouse, “Michigan” This is one that Noel contributed to the main list, but it’s also the one that comes instantly to mind for me in this category. In this quiet recitation of a letter written by a teenage runaway to his parents, backed only by an acoustic guitar, Rouse sings about playing cards with his Uncle Ray and passes along a message from Aunt Terry — “She wants you to know she wrote a song” — before suddenly, without warning, in the middle of a verse, bursting out with “Mom, I’m sorry, I was wrong.” After pleading with them to understand why he couldn’t stay in Wichita (“where everyone knows everything about me”), he closes quietly: “Just want to be happy, love, your son.”

2. Lambchop, “Theone” This trembly plea from Kurt Wagner to his wife — “Scary sights/are the things that haven’t happened, but just might/Don’t think it over too quickly” — has the fragility of unilateral certainty. Wagner is trying to convince her to feel as he does, but all he can offer is his own metaphors: “I am the state/You are the flag/You are the one.” By the end, he is out of words and can only leave it up to her: “There’s the phone/and here’s the number/You are the one.”

3. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, “Coma Girl” In the joyful/hopeful category — songs that make me cry not because they are sad, but because their particular brand of happiness touches me deeply — is this unlikely evocation of youth culture in the 1950’s. The part that turns on the waterworks is just after the bridge, heading into the final, driving choruses: “Into action everybody sprang/And the radio was beating out/Doo-lang, doo-lang …” Something about that speaks to my belief in the transcendence of pop music, its ability to provide the perfect aspiration for our lives.

4. Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City” “Put your makeup on/Fix your hair up pretty/And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” A million Springsteen songs make me cry — “Thunder Road,” “Meeting Across The River,” “Stolen Car,” “If I Should Fall Behind” — so this will have to stand in for all of them. Again, it’s the exhortation to someone over whom the speaker doesn’t have control. All he can do is try to persuade her — often of something he doesn’t himself fully believe.

5. Stephen Sondheim, “Move On” And this will stand for just about the whole cast album for Sunday in the Park With George. I’m a puddle throughout at least three songs from that show. “Finishing the Hat” (“Coming from the hat/Studying the hat/Entering the world of the hat/Reaching through the world of the hat/Like a window/Back to this one from that”) tries desperately to explain the effort to make art that partakes of that transcendence. And “Sunday” (“By the cool blue triangular water/on the soft green elliptical grass/as we pass through arrangements of shadow/toward the verticals of trees/Forever…”) posits complete achievement of that transcendence in a single painting. “Move On” is a perfect example of that patented Sondheim closing song that helps the characters accept what’s happened to them but gives them hope as well (“No One Is Alone” from Into The Woods, a song Noel plans to have played at his funeral, is perhaps the epitome of this genre). “Stop worrying if your vision is new/Let others make that decision — they usually do” is a line that goes through my mind frequently.

6. Todd Rundgren, “Initiation” I’ll close with two songs from my formative years that still strike the perfect note with me — a clear, clarion call to beauty and yearning and hope. This lengthy number grabs me when the ringing guitar solo takes over from the distorted sax, then hits the gut when it segues into the chorus: “When the bells ring out/And the fire burns within and without/Initiation …”

7. ELO, “Bluebird” And here it’s the sudden, hushed acoustic section leading up to the final chorus: “I see it all, rainbows in fall/I see her face upon my wall/But it’s only make believe/Fly away, bluebird fly away for me/To a place somewhere far across the sea …”

What songs make you cry?

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5 Comments on “96 Tears”


  1. Jolando (sp?) originally by Roy Orbison. I’m talking about the version in Mulholland Drive. Though not necessarily songs but more orchestral or choir pieces, I’d have to say October (orchestral) and When David Heard (choral) by Eric Whitacre.

    On your title, wasn’t the original song called 69 Tears but had to be changed? Seems like I saw that on VH1.

  2. Eric Grubbs Says:

    I believe the correct title is “Llorando.”

    For me, given the mood, Tom Waits’ “Kentucky Ave.” can let the tears flow freely.

  3. Paul C. Says:

    Not having any kids and being fortunate enough to have both my parents still alive, most of my tearjerking songs are breakup-related. The one that springs to mind is The Band’s “Whispering Pines,” which actually saw me through a pretty rough breakup back in college. It was my first major long-term relationship, and I fell for her hard. It ended up being a long-distance thing due to summer break, after a few months apart (she was on a pretty intense internship on the West Coast), we just broke it off. The light at the end of the tunnel just wasn’t getting any closer, I guess.

    The weird thing is that I initially expected to feel hostile about it, but I didn’t- neither of us wronged the other, and I still cared a great deal for her. It was around this time that I started getting into The Band, and I guess I really identified with the lyrics:

    “Foghorn through the night/
    calling out to sea/
    protect my only light/
    for she once belonged to me”

    Maybe it was that I hoped that when fall rolled around we’d get back together (we didn’t) or that I simply aspired to be the kind of ex she would actually remember fondly, but I cried my eyes out listening to that song. Even now, I get choked up. Man, haven’t seen her in years. Thanks for dredging THAT up…

  4. Adam Villani Says:

    Over the past several years I’ve become a real softie at the movies (I mean, I welled up a bit at that freakin’ Whoopi Goldberg GOLDEN DREAMS thing at Disney’s California Adventure) but I really can’t think of any songs that make me cry. Not to say that such things never happen, but if they do, I can’t think of any right now. Hmmm… thinking, thinking… maybe a good rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Maybe “Be Not Afraid” in the movie DEAD MAN WALKING, btu, again, that was more the movie than the song.

    I think most of the bands I listen to aren’t really aiming for tears. I never listen to Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen or alt-country or any country for that matter. I suppose some of what I listen to aims for tears. I know there are people who cry to Morrissey or Depeche Mode. Or Neil Young, probably.

  5. Eric Grubbs Says:

    “Rainbow Connection” is another one with me. Yes, “Rainbow Connection.”


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