A Few Legendary Songwriters On Heartbreak
1. Bob Dylan – “Simple Twist of Fate” – This track appears on Bob’s 1975 masterwork, “Blood on the Tracks”, which is perhaps one of the greatest efforts by a singer/songwriter to capture all of the vagaries that sink romances. Sometimes Dylan’s lyrics on this album are blunt, forceful, and urelentingly bitter. They often contain an immediacy that is personal and certain. “Simple Twist of Fate” is a bit different. Things don’t work out for the couple in the song, but we are never given a straight answer as to why. It’s just a twist of fate after all. Told from a third-person perspective, the song relays the story of a one-night night starting from the hopeful beginning (“They sat together in the park as the evening sky drew dark. She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones” are the song’s unforgettable opening lines) and ending with the male protagonist waking up to an empty bed, unable to track down the woman with whom he had been with only a few hours earlier. Told entirely from the perspective of the male protagonist, Dylan’s song is absolutely crushing. The man seems to not want to believe that he had feelings for this woman (“he told himself he didn’t care”), but the pain of the one who got away is just too much (“people tell me it’s a sin, to know and feel too much within, I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring”). Dylan’s song masterfully renders the hope, despair, and melancholy that characterizes those fleeting moments of ecstacy and heartbreak—moments that sometimes unfold over the course of only a few passionate hours.
2. Townes Van Zandt – “Tower Song” – Townes is one of my favorite songwriters, a staple of Hickory Wind programming since I started doing the show. Townes was the king of heartbreak so this list would not be complete without at least one of his songs. “Tower Song” is absolutely gorgeous, equal parts bitter and nostalgic with just enough reassurance to convince the listener that the song’s two protagonists were never meant to be together. “The end is coming soon, it’s plain/a warm bed just ain’t worth the pain/and I’ll go and you’ll remain with the biterness we tasted” Townes sings towards the end of the song. The track (I prefer the stripped down version that appears on “Rear View Mirror”) is a remarkable commentary on the pride that often prevents reconciliation, and the hopeless futility that marks our misguided attempts to do so.
3. Vic Chesnutt – “Over” – This folk ballad from the beloved cult-favorite songwriter shows off his penchant for dark humor and twisted imagery. Starting out like a wistful, melancholic reflection on love-lost, the song’s lullaby guitar provides the backdrop for Chesnutt’s deceptively straightforward lyrics, which are accented by strange turns of phrase: “It sucks when it’s over, and you can’t get it back” Chesnutt sings before launching into a bizarre reference to necrophilia. Like most of Chesnutt’s best songs, you are never really sure where his lyrics are going. He never makes an obvious rhyme, and his phrasing always stretches over the beat while his voice draws out certain notes when you least expect it. This is a sad song to be sure, but Chesnutt’s lyrics, while provoking reflection, also dare the listener not to take their sadness too seriously.
Written by Vince Meserko. Tune into Hickory Wind every Monday night from 8-10pm on 90.7fm KJHK.