Sometimes when you feel like crap, it helps to listen to happy songs. And sometimes you have to listen to something that makes you feel sad. This is one of the classics of jazz, and one of the saddest songs I know. Sung by Johnny Hartman, sax by John Coltrane, and composed, of course, by Billy Strayhorn (I got mine from this page). Heartbreaking, sad, somehow hopeless but pretty anyway, like cut roses dying in normal air. (And by the way, the “gay” mentioned in the song is early enough to be understood as “happy” though this could easily be a lonely old gay theme song I suppose.)
Lush Life (by Billy Strayhorn)
I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come what may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life…
From jazz and cocktails.
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distant gay traces
That used to be there you could see where they’d been washed away
By too many through the day…
Twelve o’clock tales.
Then you came along with your siren of song
To tempt me to madness!
I thought for a while that your poignant smile was tinged with the sadness
Of a great love for me.
Ah yes! I was wrong…
I was wrong.
Life is lonely again,
And only last year everything seemed so sure.
Now life is awful again,
A troughful of hearts could only be a bore.
A week in Paris will ease the bite of it,
All I care is to smile in spite of it.
I’ll forget you, I will
While yet you are still burning inside my brain.
Romance is mush,
Stifling those who strive.
I’ll live a lush life in some small dive…
And there I’ll be, while I rot
With the rest of those whose lives are lonely, too…
When you recognize your own fears and sadness and nightmares and even resignation in someone else’s, suddenly you feel less alone, and you feel like, hey others have felt like this too. And managed to do things like write beautiful songs, despite the pain. It took Strayhorn 3 years, from 1933-36, to write this song. It was one of his first successes, and of all the many famous renditions of it in jazz, I think this is the best.