Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gloomy Sunday

There are many internet rumours that this is the song that supposedly causes people to commit suicide after they listen to it which is why it was called the "Hungarian suicide song" in the US. The original Hungarian composer Rezső Seress who composed the music to go with the poem by László Jávor actually did jump to his death from his apartment building...but it wasn't until thirty three years after writing this song.

My mother, who is a true "Hungarian" (although she was born in Canada and has only been to Budapest once or twice) would definitely appreciate this song. It seems that I too can be a 'gloomy guy' and I am drawn to melancholy melodies and minor keys. My Hungarian grandfather seemed influenced by the gloominess and difficulty of the great depression that inspired this song. He always told us to save and conserve our money and at least made a good case for how hard things were growing up in poverty. This song echoes that despair from a World War that shattered Europe. In the literal English translation of the lyrics, the protagonists chase for "dreams" are met only with an empty "carriage of sorrow" that returns "without you"; imaginably the bride he is waiting for. Although "tears are" his "only drink" in that version, suicide is not explicit.

In the Desmond Carter version done by Paul Robeson here, it could be interpreted that death severs him from his love and thus steals him to the church rather then allowing him to go there with her to wed:

Sadly one Sunday I waited and waited
With flowers in my arms for the dream I'd created
I waited 'til dreams, like my heart, were all broken
The flowers were all dead and the words were unspoken
The grief that I knew was beyond all consoling
The beat of my heart was a bell that was tolling

Saddest of Sundays

Then came a Sunday when you came to find me
They bore me to church and I left you behind me
My eyes could not see one I wanted to love me
The earth and the flowers are forever above me
The bell tolled for me and the wind whispered, "Never!"
But you I have loved and I bless you forever

At the end is added: "Last of all Sundays", for him at least.

This Paul Robeson version is my favorite. Robeson's deep, baritone vocals make this an emotive and truly gloomy experience that makes your heart swell along with the dynamics of the melody. The lyrics are also a different translation than the cover done by Billie Holiday, which added a third verse to explain that the singer was only dreaming of her lover's death (but was still banned from BBC radio anyway).

Paul Robeson had a hard enough life as well. Not only would it have been tough being a black actor in the 1930's, he was famously the first black actor to play Othello on Broadway, but he was also an athlete, a lawyer, an opera singer, he was heavily involved in social activism against the Jim Crow laws and the racism that was prevalent, which would be why he became a target to the CIA and victim of a passport ban. He apparently attempted suicide after a wild party at a Hotel in Moscow but his son believes that he might be been drugged by a CIA agent because of the hallucinations and paranoia his father described to him three days later, which he never had before or after that experience. The symptoms described are consistent with what might be caused by LSD, a drug the CIA was experimenting (or using others to experiment) with in project MK Ultra. Robeson later died due to complications from a prostate surgery, which is chilling considering that prior to the surgery he had expressed concern over what might "be done" to him by the US Government.

I cannot imagine living with constant harassment by society and that society's own government, but music is a better escape than suicide. Please listen responsibly.



Blogger C.J.Duffy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:49 a.m.  
Blogger C.J.Duffy said...

Moving maybe but would not drive me to suicide.

I do like Paul Robeson's voice which is both honey sweet but dark as midnight

11:50 a.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

I agree with your description of his voice and look at us we're still alive!

3:40 p.m.  
Blogger Chocobizzle said...

I think I'm going to commit suicide..

Please, Barrett, don't try and stop me. I'm jumping off your balcony. I'm sorry I had enough of this world.
& the world has had enough of me. So nice knowing you, you were a good friend bye.

PS: Are we drinkin tonight?

4:27 p.m.  

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