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Homecoming: Perfectly Pleasant, Acutely Sad

January 26, 2015

I had lunch with a good friend a few months back when we happened to cross briefly in the same city.  We had remained in touch over recent years with occasional emailed updates on family, work, and travels but hadn’t seen each other for probably five years or so.  After meeting up on the agreed street corner and walking to a nearby sushi place, we spent about an hour together sharing thoughts on the food we were eating, commenting on our mutual physical aging, and repeating family updates we had already shared over email.  It was a perfectly pleasant and enjoyable time… and it left me entirely unsatisfied and with a deep sense of melancholy.

This was a guy with whom in the not-so-distant past I had shared countless hours and exchanged virtual reams of digital paper over the course of many years in mutual joking, confessing, analyzing, lamenting, advising, and bucking up.  He is among the closest friends I’ve ever had and probably knows more about me and my internal workings than even my long-suffering spouse.  Yet, here we were trapped in shallow small talk, experiencing at best a superficial intersecting of paths before each headed back to our separate parts of the globe and the next five years of cursory updates.

I don’t think this blue feeling of inadvertently lost personal bond has ever been more poignantly captured than by country picker and songwriter Tom T. Hall in his 1969 song “Homecoming.”  In its reading of a traveling musician’s brief stop home to see a parent after a long time on the road, I hear a deep, unfulfilled longing for renewed connection with someone dearly loved.  The recited conversation, of which we hear only one side, is perfectly pleasant and enjoyable.  There is no indication of resentment or falling out, and there is clear love between the participants.  And yet, the unintentional shallowness is heartbreaking.  The bond of love and caring is still there but the passage of time and non-deliberate inattention has allowed it to go fallow.  Behind the words and music, there lurks an unanticipated, but profoundly emotional, recognition of loss.

Tom T. Hall - Homecoming

The song’s simplicity, conversational style, and lack of chorus reinforce its impact.  Strolling acoustic guitar and piano chords move on a stable backbeat of cymbal and brushed snare that builds subtly with the addition of what sounds to be high-hat about halfway through.  Slight shifts in piano and picked guitar lines punctuate the lyrics without being heavy-handed or judgmental.  The listener is never induced, but instead allowed to simply observe.  Even so, it seems to me impossible to hear the song’s final lyric, which I’ll paraphrase as “take care and say hi to Barbara if you see her,” and not be affected.  Rather than being a joyful renewal, the reunion has instead laid bare a previously unexamined separation, which is only reinforced by the rote nature of the perfectly pleasant farewell.

Listen to Tom T. Hall’s wonderful song below.  Then delve a little deeper into this unassuming artist’s extensive body of life-affirming work.  It’ll make you happy.  Afterwards, maybe reach out to somebody special and make an effort at pushing past the rut in which the two of you have unintentionally become mired.

Tom T. Hall – Homecoming:

From → Ideas, Music

2 Comments
  1. The risk of being real.
    Too often not taken.

    Nice post. Thanks.

  2. ‘And yet, the unintentional shallowness is heartbreaking’, that really resonates. It’s the way it goes sometimes.

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