A Short Weekend Begins With Longing - The Leisure Society
Without You - Nilsson
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want - The Smiths
I Want You - Elvis Costello
Unsatisfied - The Replacements
The Wanting Comes In Waves - The Decemberists
Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
Still I Long For Your Kiss - Lucinda Williams
Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
Take This Longing - Leonard Cohen
Before we get down to business, did you know that Unchained Melody was originally the theme song to a 50s movie called Unchained? - which makes sense, when you think about it.
I choose this topic as an excuse to write a little bit about Nick Cave's lecture called 'The Secret Life of the Love Song', which I bought on CD about 10 years ago, and which has been inordinately influential on my thinking about songs, particularly love songs. It's a brilliant piece - I listened to it again recently and it still rang so true. Who, after all, is more qualified to talk about the nature of the love song than the man who wrote the immortal lines ""I'll stay here till Billy-Dilly comes in, til time comes to pass and furthermore I'll fuck Billy-Dilly in his motherfucking ass" said Stagger Lee "I'm a bad motherfucker don't you know, and I'll crawl over 50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole."" Aah, Cave, Cave, Cave.
But seriously folks, what Cave introduced me to, in his clever, slightly unhinged, way, was the idea of Duende in art, and even more pertinently, the Portuguese word Saudade, which he claimed was at the heart of all great love songs.
When in doubt, go to wikipedia - to spare you the trouble, the second paragraph of Saudade's entry in Wikipedia reads
Saudade has been described as "a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist ... a turning towards the past or towards the future." A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover or a family member who has gone missing. It may also be interpreted as a deep longing or yearning for something which does not exist or is unattainable.
Well, if that ain't just the human condition right there.
Now, as I write, I know that Cave talked about what I'm just about to write about, but I can't remember the full extent to which I extrapolated to form my own theory based on his words - that the managing of this Saudade, this hole at the centre of us, defines what kind of people we are. We all have it but we don't all know it - not knowing it may lead us down many paths, religions, lifestyles, relationships, triumphs and disasters, knowing it may do the same, but may more likely lead to attempts to contain and even harness it. I do remember even developing an image in my head that this saudade was like a balloon which you could never pop but you could push and shape as you needed it. I wonder if i even pushed the somewhat folksy image to the extent of wondering if some very smart people even did eventually learn how to untie the knot and slowly let the air out. Perhaps. I honestly can't recall.
So, I think it's true, all great love songs, maybe all great works of art, have longing at their heart, maybe sometimes more in the sense of making the audience long for something within the piece, whether in terms of desire, nostalgia, talent ... whatever.
I suppose longing, lacking, wanting is seen as a necessarily bad thing, but if it is just what is, unavoidably, then perhaps people should stop seeing it like that. For, really, what would we be without it?
(I intended the question to be rhetorical, but then it strikes me the answer might be Simon Cowell)
Anyway, this is called
The beating of the heart
The child in the womb
You think I'm going soft
Words fail me
Every time I speak
I can't account for that
Or ever speak away
The sudden flush of grief
The instant sight of death
You think I've lost the will
to back my own beliefs
but what do I dare say
when all that I can feel's
And words fail
the love i've thrown away
and how it couldn't have gone
any other way
The wilting of ideals
Coming home to roost
And longing's all I have
it's all I'd never lose
for any stylised speech
for any frozen love
the poets of the age
whoever they might be -
Oh, let's not kid ourselves
I won't kid myself
when all that I've got
barring brief respite
from ever-thriving longing.