These songs haunted me. I couldn’t let it go. I kept going back to them in my mind, over and over, asking the same questions, trying to find a loophole in the lyrics … Maybe THIS time the song won’t end the same way … maybe I can find the way out to a different ending.
– the song “You take the low road and I’ll take the high road …” I never listened to it without feeling an ache in my heart and without trying to talk TO the song, and ask it why it had to be that way. I always just wanted to intervene and say, ‘No, no, can’t you BOTH take the low road, you and your true love? So you don’t have to separate?” A small 7 year old intervention. The song really upset me, and I kept trying to negotiate with the song itself … trying to figure out a way for the lovers to stay together
– Little Jackie Paper’s betrayal (that’s how I saw it) and the last moment when Puff the Magic Dragon crawled into the cave. Can’t even talk about it. To this day.
– John Henry and his hammer. I learned that song in 2nd grade, I think there was even a picture book, and I remember the illustrations – particularly one very dark one, which showed John Henry – in the tunnel – swinging his hammer … and I knew he was a big strong man but the illustration made him look very small, in the distance, coming through with his hammer. I hated that he died and it seemed so unfair, I remember sitting at my little desk in 2nd grade in a total funk about it. There was a line in the song about how his heart gave out – he had worked so hard – and it just made me sick to think about. It was another song where I wanted to intervene. I wanted to run through the tunnel in my little Keds sneakers, and drag John Henry out by the hand before his heart gave out. Not fair. Learning the lyrics to that song ruined my day. I still have a strong reaction to that song (which now comes up on my iPod all the time, thanks to Bruce Springsteen) and part of it is because of how upset it made me when I was in 2nd grade.