You can’t go home no more and songs for old fools

I’ve found more solace, understanding, meaning, righteousness, inspiration, validation and a laundry list of other things, in music more often than I have in human beings. I know I’m not alone in this method of coping with this thing we call life, because it’s where things like blues and jazz come from. As a musician for most of my life, and an avid obsessive music collector, I find more understanding in music than I do people because music speaks to me on levels people do not. Music has never let me down, whereas people? Well…

Someone told me once that they can relate song lyrics to almost anything anyone says to them. I am much the same way. Whatever the issue at hand, I can immediately think of a song that relates. This explains my lifelong obsession with music…and running to its recesses when people fail, which is often.

If I have any serious regrets in this life, it’s that I did not pursue a career in music in some way, shape or form. It has always been my true passion, as well as language, and that fire inside me never burned out. In fact, it renews itself constantly. If I could go back in time and change one thing, that would be it. Regret is a son of a bitch to live with and reconcile.

My point to all of this is that every once in a blue moon a song will come along that hits me square in the chest, knocks my knees out, slaps me on the back of the head and frames everything so perfectly that I have to stop and recognize what’s happening before it dissipates, while also catching my breath.

This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s powerful. And let me say that I feel foolish writing this kind of stuff down because telling people about songs that mean something to you is akin to describing your dreams to people the next day – you usually end up sounding like an idiot and people generally don’t “get it” and think you a fool for trying.

You ever play a song for someone in your car, only to have them talk over it or just completely miss the whole meaning entirely? Or that note/passage doesn’t hit them the same way it does you because they’re not hearing it the right way?! Yeah, that.

Music, like many other mediums, reaches broad audiences but it means different things to different people. One of the great things about the internet is finding that other people feel the same way about things that you do, namely songs, which makes you feel slightly less crazy about that obscure song you obsess over.

The other day while I was picking up my kids, I swapped out the CDs in my car and chose one I hadn’t listened to in years.  It was an album I bought a lifetime ago, and by mistake at that. I bought it thinking a particular song was on there, which was not.

The was pre-internet, when you gambled on an album without hearing any of the songs on it and hoped the album wouldn’t suck. In fact, unless the radio played a single from the album, which, often in the case of “eclectic” (see: non mainstream) music tastes, you pretty much bought records based on the cover art, but that’s a whole other topic.

The album was The Legendary Lou Rawls by the late Lou Rawls. It’s a compilation record. At the time – around 1992 – I was not the biggest Lou Rawls fan, but I knew one of his songs well because it hit me like a ton of bricks at the time. That song, You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, from his 1976 album, All Things In Time, became my theme song (one of many during that period), due to relationship woes.

I have no clue where I heard the song but when I did, it immediately validated what I was feeling at the time and I had to own it. Again, during this time You Tube didn’t exist. If you didn’t own an album you were shit outta luck if you wanted to hear it again. I bought The Legendary Lou Rawls not knowing the name to the song I liked and not knowing it was not on that album. Bummer.

I quickly skipped through the songs and then forgot about the album once I discovered my song wasn’t on there. I eventually found the song I was looking for and drowned my sorrows to it without ever looking deeper in Rawls’ discography. I don’t believe I’ve listened to that record since then, which is roughly 25 odd years ago.

Anyway, the other day while waiting for my kids, I played the CD and was blown away by how great it is. I’m not gonna tell you how amazing it is in detail but it has some real gems, including an astounding rendition of Tobacco Road.

But the song that spoke to me the most was a tune called You Can’t Go Home No More.

httpss://youtu.be/K26vTCqOprE

What’s funny to me is that Lou didn’t write that song, though he could have fooled me. It was written by Billy Vera, who is a songwriter with credits ranging from Dolly Parton to Fats Domino and even themes for a few TV sitcoms. Vera, who also produced a few Rawls albums, including this one, has his own version of You Can’t Go Home No More, which is no where near as good as the Rawls version. In fact, I’d argue that it sounds like a bad cover of a Lou Rawls song! Ha! (Sorry, Billy)

The way Rawls sings it, and also infuses some of his own spoken word storytelling to the track, in addition to George Benson’s guitar/vocals, makes the song magical, to me anyway. Rawls sounds like he lived that song, which is why it speaks to me the way it does. The liner notes for the album say that Rawls was an “interpreter” of music and often picked songs which suited his style. This is extremely evident with You Can’t Go Home No More.

The premise of the song is simple. The story however is rich, and for me, deep, especially now that I can appreciate the song and have the life experience to back it up. The subject matter is one I’m all too familiar with and something I’ve written about extensively over the years.

This is not a song for children, which is what I was at the time when I bought the CD. No, Lou Rawls makes music for grown folks, and I can understand that now.

Lovelorn, sappy bubblegum pop songs cannot begin to even touch the kind of feelings that Rawls music does – they’re not even in the same universe. You might think [INSERT CURRENT POP HIT HERE] conveys your 20-something feelings of a bad relationship or the bitterness of isolation, but that’s only because you lack the life experience to appreciate genres of music – and artists – which have been around much longer…and done a better job. Like I said, grown folks music. Kids will scoff at that but come talk to me in 25 years when you have some lived experience under your belt.

And so that’s where I found myself the other day, in car line, waiting to pick up my kids, with a record I bought 25 years ago, speaking to me in a way I’ve been trying to convey for the past decade but without much success.

The theme of not being able to go home again is a reoccurring theme in my writing – some of it I’ve shared, most I have not. But the feeling is strong. Hearing Rawls sing about these feelings affected me deeply. Profoundly, because he hit the nail on the head here.

I am a self-described “stranger in a strange land,” which sounds goofy and melodramatic without any context. My experience is not unique by any stretch of the imagination, as “not going home again” is a popular theme in music and film. But the way in which Rawls sings about it and the little tidbits he adds to it by way of spoken word, are what really sells it.

My hometown was (and continues to be) destroyed and rebuilt by gentrification. Rawls speaks to these things in the song by talking about “urban renewal,” which was a friendlier term for pushing out poor people and bulldozing entire neighborhoods so that high dollar condos and boutiques can go in their place. Rawls even alludes to the term being coded.

“yeah, buddy, but things are changing now, you know, it’s a brand new day. Things just aren’t that way. You even go back to your old neighborhood, looking for your friends and places that you used to know? But because of urban renewal, you understand me, they’re not there any more.”

Boom. I was like: Holy shit, Lou! I know exactly what you’re talking about! Fuck! 

And then I realized I was yelling at myself inside of my head.

I dunno, it’s a weird sensation to describe to someone when you hear things that are so personal to you being expressed in a song, and a good one at that. But like I said, it’s like trying to describe your dreams to people. What seems solid in your head, turns to sand in your mouth and mud in someone’s ear.

The notes that he hits and the way he stretches them, so soulfully, on certain words is spectacular. It gives me chills. Hearing him croon about the past being “dead and gone” is mournful. And when he talks about being to blame for staying away for too long, well, that one cuts me deep. I relate to all of that in more ways than one and it’s something that is never far from my mind.

I am often envious of people who stayed in their hometown their wholes lives, only to discover some of those people are envious of those who uprooted and never looked back.

Listening to this song makes me think of my own experience of walking my own hometown streets and looking for familiar faces and places long gone. The memories haunt me, but that’s all they are now: ghosts, and persistent ones at that.

And just like my goddamn dreams, trying to explain the significance of these things is frustrating because people who weren’t there do not and cannot understand. How could they?  And the circle of people who do shrinks every year, which is depressing in its own right.

Rawls’ song is more a eulogy than anything else, at least for me. Listening to it is to acknowledge the death of the past and how we tried to relive it one more time but were just too late. Time is a cruel mistress indeed.

I’ve experienced this numerous times now on trips back home, but as Rawls sings about there is no more home. The wisdom Lou gives in this song occurs at the beginning, when he says all you can do is get your fill and then shake it off, “cuz it ain’t nothin’ but another day in the life.” Amen to that.

I don’t know what key this song is in but I am betting it’s a minor key because of how sorrowful the song feels. I’m only sharing this with you because the song really touched a nerve the other day and it was amazing to me that it took 25 years to do so. Though the message of the song is nothing new, and is something I am quite familiar with, the raw emotion in which Rawls conveys it hit me over the head and everything came full circle.

In other words, I’m just like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons fawning over Andy Williams.

That’s my rant for the week. My guess is it’s probably not what you expected. Here’s to Lou Rawls. Here’s to your old neighborhood. Here’s to the old days.

Thanks for reading.

P.S.

Here’s the lyrics to You Can’t Go Home No More by Lou Rawls. Sidenote: all the lyric transcriptions online for this song are wrong. I did these by ear.

 

Spoken:

George Benson: Hey Lou ain’t seen you in a long time, man. Tell me what’s goin’ on, baby.

Lou Rawls: Hey, buddy, what’s happenin’? You know, I was talkin’ the other day with some friends, about the way things had been growing up, as kids you know? All the places we used to love to go, and used to hide out, you know, little hideouts ya’ll used to know? Yeah, buddy, but things are changing now, you know, it’s a brand new day, things just aren’t that way. You even go back to your old neighborhood, lookin for your friends and places that you used to know? But because of urban renewal, you understand me, they’re not there any more. So, you just check it out and get your fill, shake off the stress and strife, get back in the stream, you understand me. Cuz it ain’t nothin’ but another day in the life.

I found myself in my hometown
I thought I’d take a look around
my old
neighborhood
where my old school
had been before
a burger stand and liquor store now stood

you can’t go home no more
you can’t go home no more
the past is dead
dead and gone
you ain’t gonna sleep in grandmas’s arms no more
you can’t go home no more
no, no, no, no
you can’t go home no more

I walked the streets that I once knew
hoping that I might run into
someone
someone that I miss
no luck, that girl was long since gone
I found the spot where my sweet love and I
where we first kissed

you can’t go home no more
you can’t go home no more
the past is dead
dead and gone
you ain’t gonna sleep in grandmas’s arms no more
you can’t go home no more
no, no, no, no
you can’t go home no more

[Benson solo]

you can’t go home no more
you can’t go home no more
the past is dead
dead and gone
you ain’t gonna sleep in grandmas’s arms no more
you can’t go home no more
no, no, no, no
you can’t go home no more

you stayed away
for much too long
they tore down the house where you were born…

you can’t go home no more
you can’t go home no more
the past is dead
is dead and gone
you ain’t gonna sleep in grandmas’s arms no more
you can’t go home no more
no, no, no more
you can’t go home no more

 

 

 

Leave a Reply