Big Sadness

Yeah, Freedy never does Little Sadness, my friends. But he never blows Big Sadness up like a flabby melancholic marshmallow. He keeps it down to a size that you can chew and swallow and really get into your bloodstream.

I first got into Johnston with his "big" record in '93. The timing was perfect because I was about to dip my toe into Big Sadness and I needed a soundtrack. I got my little place in Pacific Beach and my fifty-story wall to climb and I was enthusiastic and ready to explore th' limits of Big Sadness. I looked far and wide for something to listen to on the journey and everything else was too arch or too spotty.

I would never have dreamed of covering anything from This Perfect World although I always wanted to. I just wasn't roadrashed enough to deliver it yet. The title track always stuck with me because it was done with a string quartet and because the narrative was a shrouded retelling of some sort of Big Sadness in an otherwise normal-scaled life.

I get the impression that we're hearing from a man who ran away from his family or maybe divorced his wife and he's coming back in the throes of a terminal disease to reconnect with a daughter. As for the ex-wife, well, "last time I was here/they found her in the lake..."

On the other hand I get the impression of an old person, maybe someone in an old folk's home on their last legs. Maybe they wouldn't even be capable of narrating this anymore except in their own head. And maybe they've been so marginalized and isolated by age but all they want and feel they deserve is the right to say goodbye but they're so doped up they can't even experience emotions. And sometimes that's th' Biggest of th' Big Sadnesses.

When the lyric sweeps into the final extended bridge it's pretty breathtaking: "Now I've gone around it's far too late/And these pills won't even let me cry/No one knows you even when you're gone/But I still deserve to say goodbye no matter what I've done/No matter what I've done..."

I've been trying to nail a good take of this song for weeks and weeks. There's no reverb to hide behind or overdubs to fix clams. And the song blossoms at the end so it's heartbreaking to nail a nice 4 minutes and then blow the last twenty seconds. When I got this take I got to the very, very end and I was so nerved up that I just did the last refrain a cappella to hedge my bets. It was not a Big Artistic Decision.

And yeah, there is a decent clam on th' Rhodes somewhere in the early two-minute area. Keepin' it real.

Freedy Johnston is a fantastic songwriter.

"This Perfect World"

And here's how I warmed up.


Blogger Gary said...

Bob-E: I have this thing on my home page and it gives me a quote of the day. Friday it was: "Anything too stupid to be said is sung." - Voltaire. (You can look it up - Yogi) Later that day I heard the Sylvers singing Boogie Fever and this cogent verse made Voltaire's point: I took my baby to the pizza parlor to get a bite to eat
I put some money in the jukebox for her
You know she ate her pizza dancing to the beat.

If this isn't fodder for a future, post, what is?

7:52 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Oh, that gives me Big Sadness indeed, my friend. There aren't enough Zantac. Or Xanax for that matter.

Well, maybe there's enough Xanax.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

Nice job on some tough material. Your voice at the end is beautiful.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Rest assured that there is enough Zarex.

The song is beautiful. Proves you haven't scratched the cords with the S'finga.

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Freedy's one of those artist's i've always meant to check out, since he was frequently compared to Michael Penn, but have never come across any of his albums in a store.

So instead of recognising him for a killer song like this, I know him only for his excellent take on Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes".

4:17 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Ha! And he also did one of them songs on "Testimonial Dinner" if I recall correctly.

I remember someone basting him on Chalkhills in th' mid nineties for taking too many breaths on whatever song it was he did which I was remembering as I recorded this because there are some herculean held phrases ("...but I still deserve to say goodbye no matter what I've done...").

5:47 PM  

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