February is always the longest month of the year. As we round out a year of loss and lockdown, however, these 28 days just seems extra cruel. Yes, there’s optimism that hasn’t been present since the pandemic struck. Yes, many of us are fortunate to live with family members, roommates, partners, and caregivers, and we depend on the human touch they provide. Yes, some of us even live with our valentines!
Yet the sense of being alone is top of mind for far too many people. We still remain separated in ways that, as social beings, are not healthy for our souls or spirits. We’re lonesome. As the word comes out of our mouths, the sound makes it clear that we’re just tired of being alone.
What a timely topic for a song. Thankfully, there are hundreds to choose from.
Which brings me to the great Al Green. Best known for recording a series of soul hit singles in the early 1970s, including Take Me to the River, I’m Still in Love with You, and his signature Let’s Stay Together, the Reverend Al Green has a smooth voice offset by a rocky personal history. Tired of Being Alone was among his major hits of the 1970s, and seems to fit the tenor of our times.
Green’s hit has also been covered by a number of musicians, including, in this simple acoustic arrangement, the talented singer Morgan James. Having recently released a new album of Memphis-based soul music, James knows what to do with Green’s tune.
Norah Jones is one of my favorite singers, moving easily between styles and musical genres. She has a new pop-flavored song, Hurts to Be Alone, out from her newest album, but I want to go back a few years to showcase her tribute to the classic Elvis tune Are You Lonesome Tonight?
While we’re into tributes, Johnny Cash turns in his version of the Hank Williams’ hit I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. This is Cash near the end of his life, so the voice isn’t as strong as it once was, but it aches and fits the tune perfectly, as only he can.
The late John Prine said that “songwriters just go from one breakup to another.” In writing The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness he said in an introduction to a live version that he recalled a Life magazine story years ago of an astronaut breaking the land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and they had a picture of the G-forces pulling at his face. “I felt like that in this song, that’s what was happening to this guy’s heart. All these G-forces were pulling at it.”
Then he adds, “If that makes any sense to you. If not, the song will be over before you know it.” Pure Prine.
Sometimes lonesome doesn’t get any better than Steve Earle, with Del McCoury singing tenor as no one else can.
And then there are the times when loneliness isn’t the worst alternative. Jack White, joined here by country singer Margo Price channeling Dolly Parton, sings the White Stripes song I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet).
“And I love my sister
Lord knows how I’ve missed her
She loves me
And she knows I won’t forget
And sometimes I get jealous
Of all her little pets
And I get lonely, but I ain’t that lonely yet“
“I can’t seem to focus
And you don’t seem to notice
I’m not here
I’m just a mirror
You check your complexion
To find your reflection’s all alone
I had to go
Can’t you hear me?
I’m not comin’ home
Do you understand?
I’ve changed my plans
‘Cause I, I’m in love
With my future
Can’t wait to meet her
And I, I’m in love
But not with anybody else
Just wanna get to know myself“
Enjoy! I hope you get to spend Valentine’s Day with the one(s) you love. And stay safe when you do connect with others in your future.
More to come…