Sunday, March 29, 2009

Writer's Block: A Good Year For The Roses

Last night my fortune cookie said "Success Is In The Details."

The author of that cookie fortune probably works part time as a country music songwriter, because the advice is dead on. When you want to write a song about a break up, you don't want to come right out and say: "You broke my heart and now I'm sad." It's much better to show it. And the best way to show is with poignant details.

This evening's case in point:

George Jones - A Good Year For The Roses (buy)

The author of this tune is Jerry Chestnut, who in 1996 was elected into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall Of Fame. The performer, of course, is the great George Jones, as fine an interpreter of country songs as has ever lived.

I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick
On the cigarettes there in the ashtray
Lyin' cold the way you left them,
But at least your lips caressed them while you packed

And a lip print on a half-filled cup of coffee
That you poured and didn't drink
But at least you thought you wanted it
That's so much more than I can say for me

It's been a good year for the roses
Many blooms still linger there
The lawn could stand another mowin'
Funny, I don't even care
When you turned to walk away
As the door behind you closes
The only thing I know to say
It's been a good year for the roses

After three full years of marriage
It's the first time that you haven't made the bed
I guess the reason we're not talking
There's so little left to say, we haven't said

While a million thoughts go racing through my mind
I find I haven't spoke a word
And from the bedroom the familiar sound
Of our one baby's cryin' goes unheard


Like the very best country songs, this one's slightly pathetic ("But at least you thought you wanted it; that's more than I can say for me."). As a married-with-children suburbanite, my favorite line is the one about the lawn needing "another mowing." I know the feeling. Suddenly such typically important tasks like lawn care don't matter anymore. But the lingering rose blooms represent a minor victory amid the chaos of the crying baby and the broken home.

Well done Mr. Chestnut and Mr. Jones.


Dave D. said...

That is a great, great song. And, while he'll never be mistaken for George Jones, Elvis Costello does a passable cover as well.

Neil Cake said...

Good observation. That's a song I actually cover with my band; I like it very much - like you say, the details are superb.

The first time I heard George Jones was on a cheap "best of" CD that my girlfriend bought me. I had to laugh; he lost his woman on 6 of the first 8 songs.

Greg said...

Very good. I heard Richard Thompson cover this song a couple of months ago.

pathfinderpat said...

I first came across this song when I heard Elvis Costello's version and, while I still like it, I much prefer George Jones' version. I also love his She Thinks That I Still Care and many more. Indeed, there is something pathetic in these songs, but coupled with his voice, I can't help but find some humour in them as well

Paul said...

pathfinderpat - I think it's that combination of pathos and humor that makes old country music so endearing.

Vaughn said...

Speaking of Elvis Costello, this song and its wordplay seems to have had an enormous impact on him as a songwriter. I never realized how much until I saw they lyrics in print here.
Have you seen his show on the SUNDANCE CHANNEL, called Spectacle?
It's damn good, I wish the show had a little more courage and would invite some of these old school Country writers on to discuss their craft.

Paul said...

Vaughn - I agree you can really see how this song influenced Elvis Costello. In my youth I thought this song (as sung by EC) was an Elvis Costello original because it was so like his style.

I have only seen that show in clips on You Tube, but it would be awesome if you got some of the old country folk on their. I'd also like to see him interview Emmylou Harris. He may have already, I don't know, because I know he was really influenced by GP.

Caitlin said...

When my parents got divorced I was convinced this song was about our family. I was 9 or something.

What a great song. I like the Elvis Costello version just as much.

Paul said...

You're no dweeb. What makes country music so good is how they sing right to you life.

Santo said...

My favorite G. Jones song! I like the Bradley Barn Sessions version best.

Thanks for the great blog. Keep it up!