Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why "Stranger On The Shore" is the saddest song

To me, anyway. It reminds me of a specific night when I was 10 years old and doing some late-night wonderings about the hopes and dreams and plans I had envisioned for the future.

A Friday night in winter of 1962. I was spending the night with my twin-friends, Sharon and Susan. They had a great set-up - the top floor of their house belonged to them. Huge bedroom with a walk-in closet, their very own bathroom (sigh), a study/sewing area. Our job that night was to go upstairs and keep the noise-level down since the twins' parents were having friends over. One of those mystical (to a 10-year-old) adult Friday night gatherings.

Anyway, we did our job - the keeping quiet part - and called it a night after watching The Flintstones and 77 Sunset Strip, gorging on Fritos and Cokes, and talking ourselves silly. I'd brought my new Santa-delivered transistor radio for its entertainment value, of course. (iPod excitement can't even begin to compare to a turn-of-the-60's transistor radio! Woo-ee!)

Once the lights were out, we kept the radio on - very softly - while the get-together continued downstairs. I heard lots of songs on the radio that night, but for some reason "Stranger On The Shore" stuck in my brain, attaching itself to our musings on what adults did at parties and what it would be like when we grew up. We had all sorts of plans and ideas. And all of that talk was infused with the Acker Bilk music on the transistor radio.

How does so much stuff get wrapped up in an old song? Well, it does. I'm sure there's some kind of psychological, sound-memory thing firing off between my dendrites, but I can't help but think there's more to it than just some scientific explanation.

I've had the best of all possible lives (well, except for the money part). I've done things that I could've never imagined at 10 years old while listening to a scratchy-sounding transistor radio on a Friday night in the winter of 1962. I've gone way beyond the wife and school teacher I thought I was destined to be.

Still, I keenly remember the visions of what adult life would be like. And reality is so, so different. Not many Holly Golightly-black cocktail dresses and witty, intelligent adult conversations at city-fied parties. But it's more than that. There was something bigger. Some big adult secret world that I imagined as a child, only to grow up to find that world doesn't exist the way I'd dreamed it would be. I don't dwell on this stuff, believe me. Just when I hear that song.

So much stuff bundled up for me in Acker Bilk's "Stranger On The Shore." A lost, enticing, oh-so-cool adult world dreamed up by a 10-year-old girl listening to a song on a transistor radio in the lavender bedroom of her best friends in the winter of 1962. That loss is why the song is so sad to me.

For those of you who don't know or remember the song, here's a 1988 version of Bilk playing his tune:

What's your saddest song?


Carey said...

I loved this post. So poignant, so bittersweet. Your description was so vivid I could experience the feeling myself, tho I've never heard the song. Let me know when you've finished HP 7 (I stayed up till 5AM cause I couldn't put it down!) I'm longing to exchange comments!

MaryB said...

Thanks, Carey. re: HP7 - I've been alternately tearing through it and deliberately slowing down. I wanna know . . . but I don't want it to end. I'll let you know as soon as I'm finished. Not long now, I suspect!

Elsie said...

I had to give this some thought, Mary. Many songs provoke feelings of one sort or another. I would have to say my saddest song is "Can I have This Dance" which I danced to with ex-husband at our wedding. The next day, on our honeymoon, he locked me in a sauna. At that moment, all my hopes for our future were shattered, and I knew then that I probably wouldn't be dancing with him for the rest of my life. I managed to survive another two years before finally throwing in the towel. The song reminds me more of feelign like a failure than of him, so it's pretty sad for me.

The song you chose is beautiful.

Peter (the other) said...

We are so close in age, that it sounds like we have had almost the same music experience. Along with Acker's almost alto sax like clarinet, what I find bittersweet now, is Percy Faith's Theme from A Summer Place. I remember hearing it as a kid and having a sense of the romantic summers to come. The years of strolling summer boulevards and boardwalks, a fisher of young women, came and went so quickly. As to those pocket transisters (my parents would have nothing to do with such gadgets,and Fritos and Cokes were not allowed foods), I remember sleeping bags out on a friends porch (camping?) and on his brand new transister Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg" played Sugar Shack two times in a row, he liked it so much! This means it must have been in the fall of '63, which was a BIG YEAR for music looking at this chart. Also interesting is what is a hit at the same time in the UK and Australia. Oops, getting off the subject. Play on Acker, play on.

docker said...

My saddest song: a toss-up between Adios Nonino by Piazzolla or Goodbye Porkpie Hat by Mingus - both written in memory of a recently departed person important to the composer. Neither has any personal meaning for me - the way you describe Stranger on the Shore. The melodies just seem sort of "essentially sad".

Acker Bilk - AARRGGH (spoken as a former serious clarinetist) - I hear that muffled "stuck a sock in the barrel" tone and shake my head in disbelief.

Chris said...

I've got two, both circa 1956/57 when I seemed to get my heart broken all the time:

1.Ella Fitzgerald's Every Time We Say Goodbye

2.Billy Eckstine & Sarah Vaughan singing Passing Strangers

Can easily take me back to those Wonder Years if I'm in the right frame of mind.

Anonymous said...

Roy Orbison's "Crying"...
hands down has my vote for
saddest song.
Big Bro