the song "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" will not get out of my head.
And it is making me nostalgically melancholy,
but in a piercingly good way.
I know the reason it is in my head -
I was recommending books to a friend and decided to re-read The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud,
because I loved it the first time I read it and was in the mood.
Is fabulous book.
Cleverly, disquietingly great.
But I'd forgotten the book's Nora talks about "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan."
She uses it as a definition of someone who realizes they are never,
ever going to live up to their dreams and aspirations -
The sound of settling.
I love that song,
and it can get stuck on a loop in my head,
even if I haven't heard it in a decade -
This is true of songs that were the soundtrack to my childhood.
Especially songs written by Shel Silverstein,
and sung by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show,
and played on an eight - track,
while I roller skated in our driveway.
I think my one issue with The Woman Upstairs,
which I loved and am loving again, is that "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" is credited to Marianne Faithfull.
She did cover that song, I remember that.
But my younger me brain,
and my current me brain,
has a Venn Diagram of swooping cross-section at the circles of Shel Silverstein and his poems and lyrics,
and music I heard on eight - track cassettes repeatedly.
And Shel Silverstein, beloved perfect nonsense poet whose books I adored,
then and now,
totally wrote "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan," and many other songs,
for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.
And we had that eight - track growing up and I know it by heart.
I kind of know every single song because they are all story-songs -
Mostly totally sad, tiny pitiful moments of heartbreak
("The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, "Sylvia's Mother")
Or totally not at all a children's poem song
("Freakin' At The Freakers Ball" and "Penicillin Penny" are not for sissies, I am just saying)-
And it didn't phase me, somehow,
as I was roller-skating and listening to Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show -
normal kids' music and lullabies freaked me out
But getting steeped in sad, ordinary defeat,
as written by Shel Silverstein,
and sung by totally bearded, sun-baked 1970's Dr. Hook -
I think that was excellent early education in the power of words and music to heart-wrenchingly explain things I didn't know I needed to understand.
Lucy Jordan, at the age of 37, realized she'd never ride through Paris, in a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair.
I am not googling to see if I got that right, because it is etched into my brain.
Young me, current me, any age me -
mourns for this woman and her endless, confused, sad, empty days,
while her husband and kids are gone,
and she could do lots of things but instead she retreats into her head.
And she's wrecked by not getting to fulfill her dream of sports cars and Paris.
And I remember thinking,
as a kid, with only the Madeline books as a primer on Paris:
"Oh, no, I think she has it wrong. I think you walk in Paris, fashionably, with scarves and dogs."
And I was even sadder for Lucy Jordan. I could hardly bear the sad.
That was good for me.
If I only roller-skated to the Xanadu soundtrack,
I don't think I would weep for Lucy Jordan.
Or the poor dude trying to get Sylvia's Mother to put Sylvia on the phone to tell her goodbye.
That kills me, that sad dude, and the operator saying forty cents more for the next three minutes . . .
I mean, Xanadu rules, but I don't know that whole soundtrack by heart.
Most of it, probably.
But I don't feel it in my bones.
And so today, since my brain can't do anything else anyway,
I'm writing an Ode.
To Shel Silverstein, RIP,
and thanks for the giggles and the tears,
and tearing up while hearing the giggles of my girls reading your poems.
And for informing me early that music can be poetry too.
To Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show,
you guys were everything weird and cool and worth retaining from the 1970's.
And I can totally cry and roller-skate at the same time,
so thanks for that too.
Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" :