Nine years ago today, my father died of a heart attack at the age of 59. In the gloomy weeks and months that followed his death, I sought to find a song that captured my own intensely complicated feelings about my father, his life, and his legacy. After all, many bands and artists have recorded well-known and deeply moving songs about their fathers, from U2’s “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” to Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father ” to Mike & The Mecanics’s “Living Years” to Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader Of The Band,” among many others. Yet I found that I had a particularly intense connection with one song in particular, written, appropriately enough, by Sting for his father (who always regretted never becoming a sailor) after his death. “Why Should I Cry For You?” is one song among an entire album “The Soul Cages” that dealt with his father’s death, setting it in the context of his father’s love for the sea, something which has always had a powerful, if somewhat unusual, draw on me as well .
The organization of “Why Should I Cry For You?” is somewhat unusual. There is a refrain at the end of some verses, but the chorus, while a recognizable one, is also not uniform. I will therefore, in my analysis of the lyrics of the song, divide the song into four verses and include the refrain or chorus at the end as part of the verse. After the verses are analyzed separately, I will discuss the song in further detail, and perhaps some of my own personal feelings about why this song is so applicable to my own relationship with my father, so as to at least allow some of the context to be clear, at least as clear as it is possible to be given the notoriously complicated way I think, feel, and write (a complexity, I should note, that is shared by Sting in his lyrics).
The first verse and refrain of this song goes as follows: “Under the dog star sail / Over the reefs of moonshine. / Under the skies of fall, / North, north west, the Stones of Faroe. / Under the Arctic fire / Over the seas of silence, / Hauling on frozen ropes / For all my days remaining. / But would north be true? ” The song begins, appropriately enough, in setting a mood of isolation, anguish, darkness, and futility in an atmosphere of seafaring. A setting is made of a sailor on a lonely voyage in the fall in the North Atlantic. It sounds like an unpleasant journey, at any rate, with the paradox of Arctic fire , the wonder if one’s conception of north (the direction associated with the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s throne ) is the true one, and the silence of the trip in isolated places like the Faroe Islands, in seas so bitterly dark and cold that the ropes end up frozen. The singer feels himself, like his father, on such a desolate and gloomy voyage.
The second verse and refrain of the song are as follows: “All colours bleed to red / Asleep on the ocean’s bed, / Drifting on empty seas / For all my days remaining. / But would north be true? / Why should I? / Why should I cry for you?.” As someone who has bled a fair amount in my life, mostly (though not only) from my nose, the red of the blood that we shed in our struggles and stress and frustrations threatens to overwhelm any color with its passionate stain. Red, indeed, is a color often associated with passion, with emotion (including love), as well as with violence and death (and political revolution, as in Communism or the populism of Northern and Northeastern Thailand). The narrator (clearly a stand-in for Sting here) sings of his concern for being adrift without direction in lonely waters far from civilization for the rest of his life, and again questions the reliability of his gauges where he points his life–he does not trust that he is going in the right direction. He also, poignantly, questions why he should even cry for his father at all.
The third verse and refrain of the song read: “Dark angels follow me / Over a godless sea, / Mountains of endless falling, / For all my days remaining, / What would be true?” Here we see that the death of Sting’s father amounts in some ways to a theological crisis. Sting feels hunted by demons without feeling the care and protection of God. He wonders if there will ever be a chance at redemption (the fall, heavy with Catholic overtones of original sin, plays here as well) and he too wonders about the truth of his life, and presumably his father. Given my own complicated relationship with my father, the same set of general concerns and the same sort of theological crisis overtook my life in the aftermath of my father’s death, as I was induced by circumstances (quite against my will or interests) to face my own intense fears of loneliness and eternal brokenness.
The fourth and final verse and refrain of the song read as follows: “Sometimes I see your face, / The stars seem to lose their place . / Why must I think of you? / Why must I? / Why should I? / Why should I cry for you? / Why would you want me to? / And what would it mean to say, / That, “I loved you in my fashion”? / What would be true? / Why should I? / Why should I cry for you?” Even at the end of this song, Sting is still dissatisfied over his father and the memory of him. I only see my father’s face when I look in the mirror, unfortunately, so there is no escape from that image. Sting feels unhappy at being induced to think and to mourn over his father and his sense of loss. He wonders as well, as I have often wondered, about what it would mean to say that he loved his father in his own fashion. One (even such a one as I am) does not wish to speak ill of the dead, or to sin against God by disrespecting and dishonoring a parent, but at the same time truth is truth and it can often be painful and this leads to a deep dilemma that seems impossible to resolve. And so the song ends with the same note it begins, a note of questioning, a frustration that one shows emotions one would rather not, and a lingering sense of being haunted.
Obviously, it is not a good thing or a pleasant thing that this would be among the songs that I relate to most when it comes to the life and death of my father . This song speaks of spiritual warfare, of deep concerns about love and truth, about loneliness and bleakness and darkness and isolation. It is, in short, a song about the torment and suffering someone goes through trying to sort out the death of a father where there was a complicated relationship. Sting clearly had unfinished business with his father, and would rather not cry about him or think about him at all. And yet he does, with little satisfaction or enjoyment in the matter. I would have wished to have gotten along better with my father, who was a witty (if somewhat cutting) man who loved books but was not an intellectual sort of person, a person of deep emotions and deep scars and wounds but an impenetrable reserve about his emotional life. Yet there were too many unacknowledged wounds between us, as my father was not willing to make confession for his own sins, and I was unable to trust myself to be entirely at ease with him, apart from a mostly shared set of religious beliefs (apart from our very strongly opposed views on church government) and interests that included sports and military history. Sadly, sometimes I still wonder, like Sting, why I should cry for a man who was so steadfastly hostile to showing that sort of emotion, or anything that could be construed as showing weakness at all, but I suppose I am a different sort of man than my father was, although just as lonely in my own fashion as he lived and died.
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 See, for example, Isaiah 14:13 and Psalm 75:6.
 See, also: