Monday, August 01, 2011

Like a Sad Song

"Sometimes I feel like a sad song
Like I'm all alone without you."

John Denver
"Like a Sad Song" (1976)

Today is the first day of August.

When I was a child, the arrival of August meant that the lazy days of summer were nearing their end, and it would be time to return to the classroom before long.

I'm back in the classroom these days, teaching journalism and writing at the local community college, but August has more significance than that for me now.

August is a bittersweet time for me, and the anniversaries come at me rapidly.

One year ago on Friday, my friend Phyllis died of pneumonia.

Twenty years ago on Sunday, another good friend of mine named Mike died after a brief battle with an especially aggressive form of cancer.

And this month would have been a milestone birthday for my mother, who died in 1995.

It is appropriate for me, I suppose, that this month is also the 35th anniversary of John Denver's release of his tune "Like a Sad Song."

I've written in this blog of my mother's fondness for Denver's music. I don't know how Phyllis or Mike felt about it.

Speaking of Mom, I don't specifically recall if she sang along with this recording — or if she even had it in her collection — the way she often did with other John Denver songs.

It wasn't really her style. It wasn't as cheery or upbeat as most of the folk music she tended to favor. In fact, it was really more like a blues piece — in my opinion. I don't think Mom had anything against the blues, but "Like a Sad Song" really was, as Denver says in the attached video, a saloon song — and that really wasn't Mom's thing.

But the song — one of the few Denver recordings to be ranked in the Top 10 on the adult contemporary charts in both the U.S. and Canada — seems right for thoughts of those three this month. I'm not completely sure why. The lyrics speak of supposedly young lovers sharing their lives — and that isn't what any of those relationships were about.

Still, the music is pretty. It kind of reminds me of a flute solo, which in turn reminds me of Phyllis. When she died last year, I wrote of her great talent as a musician, and I think it will always be one of my strongest memories of her. It is probably no coincidence that, when I think of really beautiful music, I think of the flute. That was Phyllis' instrument.

And the words are kind of haunting and wistful. With a slightly different spin, they could apply to all three relationships.

These days, my memories of those three dance lightly in my head, and they become intertwined at times. And "Like a Sad Song" plays in my mind like the soundtrack to those thoughts and memories.

A few years after Mom died, I picked up a CD collection of Denver's best songs. "Like a Sad Song" is on it — and, on occasion in recent weeks, I have listened to it. And I have thought about Mom, Phyllis and Mike.

I miss them all. Sometimes I do feel like a sad song.