Thursday, June 01, 2006


You'll have to forgive me today. My mind's a bit frazzled, and I'm in kind of a downer mode, and I don't feel much like posting anything original today.

So I thought I'd highlight lyrics to two of my favorite songs, two of the saddest songs I know. Both of them feature music by Kurt Weill, probably my favorite composer of all time. But this is print, so you won't hear the music. Interestingly, the exquisitely downbeat lyrics to both of these were written, not by a well-known lyricist, but by Maxwell Anderson, author of the plays from which these songs were taken. Anderson may have only moonlighted as a songwriter, but these are both wonderful pieces of work.

Let's start with It Never Was You, a love song of uncommon feeling:

I've been following the trails
I've been staring after ships
For a certain pair of eyes
And a certain pair of lips

And I've looked everywhere
You can look without wings
And I've seen a great variety
Of interesting things

But it never was you
It never was, anywhere, you
An occasional sunset reminded me
Or a flower hanging high on a tulip tree
Or one red star hanging low in the west
Or a heartbreak call from a meadowlark's nest
Made me think for a moment, maybe it's true
I've found you in the stars, in the glow, in the blue...
But it never was you

I've been running through the rain
And the wind that follows after
For an uncommon girl
With an unforgotten laughter

Well, I've tried a kiss here
And I've tried a kiss there
For when you're out in company
The boys and girls should pair...
But it never was you...

There are many things to like about these lyrics. I like the plainspoken quality ("the wind that follows after") which lend it an almost casual quality, until a single, perfect detail ("an unforgotten laughter") nails the overwhelming pain of heartbreak and loss.

I'm not sure how well the lyrics to It Never was You stand alone without Weill's wistful melody, but I know these, for Lost In The Stars, are probably as fine as anyone's ever written:

Before Lord God made the sea and the land
He held all the stars in the palm of His hand
And they ran through His fingers like grains of sand
And one little star fell alone

So the Lord God hunted through the wide night air
For the little dark star on the wind down there
And He stated and promised He'd take special care
So it wouldn't get lost again

Now a man don't mind if the sky grows dim
And the clouds roll over and darken him
As long as he knows God's watching over him
Keeping track how it all goes on

But I've been walking through the night and day
Til my eyes are tired and my head's turned gray
And sometimes I think maybe God's gone away
Forgetting the promise we heard Him say

And we're lost out here in the stars
Little stars, big stars,
Blowing through the night
We're lost out here in the stars...

A world without God, a world forgotten and abandoned. This is, without a doubt, one of the most profound expressions of existential despair ever written, even without Weill's mournful music.

Weill's often unusual songs are justly celebrated today, his works covered by opera singers and jazz crooners alike, and pop performers like Dresden Dolls and Nellie McKay have clearly looked to him for inspiration. I'm second to no one in my admiration of Weill, but I wonder why Maxwell Anderson doesn't get more credit for his lyrics.

After all, it's the words that people sing.