Vincent Van Gogh, Funeral In the Snow Near the Old Tower
Lately I've been obsessed with a song. Wendy says I always have to be "in love" with something and I guess my current affair has something to do with Tom T. Hall. In particular, I'm starry-eyed and swooning for his 1971 song "I Hope It Rains at My Funeral" from his album 100 Children.
It's a brilliant piece of songwriting, due in no small part to Tom's delivery. The storyline is well-worn: country boy desires to escape his dead end country life and authoritarian father but once he's gone only finds himself in more trouble. Like many of Tom's more serious songs, it's sad and heartbreaking but conveyed with a sense of humor (or, humor conveyed with heartbreaking sadness). The hero of the song is curious and ambitious but naive and limited by his upbringing. You can't help but to cheer for the poor bastard even though you're shaking your head with knowing anticipation.
In the end, of course, the boy is a man and he's beat up and only slightly wiser for it. He knows only enough to know that if given the choice he wouldn't do it all over again.
And for the hell of it, here is Whiskeytown's version taken from the 1998 compilation, Real: The Tom T. Hall Project. It pales in comparison to the original but I have a real soft spot for Whiskeytown. The naiveté is lost in the delivery and Ryan Adams sounds like the dumb loser that the hero probably is but that we don't want to admit. It's more of a late night honky tonk closer, less Joe Buck and more, um, Joe Dirt(?).
Whiskeytown also made a chorus from one of the verses, rendering it a 'song' rather than a ballad. But the worst offense is that Ryan Adams changed the last line of the original version ("For once, I'd like to be the only one dry.") into, "For once, I'd like to be the only one that's left there crying". Not only does this not make sense (Ryan Adams will never be known as a lyricist) but it removes the cynical humor of the narrator. The last line is the song's punch line and at that point the hero is laughing at himself and his reckless zeal. The Whiskeytown version seems to miss the point entirely and, again, the narrator comes across as feeling sorry for himself and his misfortunes. Bad Ryan. Bad.
Still, the combination of Caitlin Cary's sweet fiddle, Phil Wandscher's guitar, and, yes, even Ryan's affected vocals never sounded so good.