It probably comes as little surprise that as a child growing up in rural central Florida that I listened to a lot of country music growing up. Given that my junior high school (or what would be called a middle school nowadays) was right next door to the Strawberry Festival grounds that served as both a celebration of the area’s agricultural heritage and a showcase for country music on the circuit of legacy acts, it was inevitable that a lot of country music should enter my ear. I must admit that I listen to far less of it now, but even within this much-maligned genre of music I still find myself reflecting on songs I have liked in the past and even new songs I can appreciate on their own merits without holding their genre against them. Even if country music often brings back painful reminders of where I grew up and sought desperately and largely successfully to escape and overcome, there are some songs from that era of my life that I still remember fondly and reflect upon.
One of those songs is from a Canadian country band that happens to be considered as a one-hit wonder on the mainstream charts  even though they did have another song that barely hit the top 40 and another that barely missed it. Although the band Restless Heart is largely forgotten today, they had four gold albums in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and racked up an impressive 6 #1 hits on the US Country charts. Amazingly enough, their crossover hit “When She Cries,” off of their last successful album “Big Iron Horses” was not one of them, although it was their last top 10 on the American country charts. The song was inescapable in my life as a child, though, and that was largely because it hit #2 on the Adult Contemporary charts that I tended to listen to myself as a child. For those who are not aware about the playlists on adult contemporary stations, they are not that large, so songs that become hits tend to be played continually and for what seems like forever, in stark contrast to the more rapid turnover on radio stations for other genres.
The framing of this song is deceptively simple, and it is little surprise that this song was the one to cross over in a big way to the mainstream and AC charts. The lead singer opines that he wishes he was a better partner to his loving lady. He wishes that he could make it just once so that there would be tears of joy in her loving eyes, and comments that he is tormented by the cries she makes in the night after she thinks he has gone to bed and cannot hear. The song itself was likely popular because of steel guitars, its catchy hook, and its strong sentimental aspects. It is a catchy song, and one that many women no doubt wished was being sung to them in their lives of bitter pretense that everything was alright when it wasn’t in the hope that someone was troubled about how things were going wrong in a relationship where communication was clearly lacking. The song is even one that could be sung by men in the hope that they would be seen, like the narrator in the song, as being somewhat sensitive if not always (or even often) successful in their efforts at dealing with a troubled relationship.
Yet despite the fact that the song was catchy and inoffensive from a musical perspective, the song is deeply troubling in its lyrical content. As a deeply melancholy person well-acquainted with pretense, I can identify with the song’s portrayal of the narrator’s partner all too well. Yet there is a lot that the narrator leaves vague and general that is troubling. What is it that is going on that makes his wife (?) cry so much at night? What sort of failure does the narrator have over and over again that makes their relationship so troubled and forces her to live a life of barren pretense? Is the narrator the source of the deep suffering suffered by his partner, or do her wounds go back further? The song doesn’t tell us–it expresses a genuine desire to do what is right that everyone can get behind, but does not flesh out the details of what is so wrong about the situation. Is the narrator to blame for the woman’s unhappiness, or is he merely the last in what has likely been a chain of men who have failed her? Who can say? Yet even the troubling aspects of this song are far less troubling songs than many one can hear today–the man is wishing to encourage and build up his wife despite his flaws and failings and imperfections, and that is a far more noble sentiment than similar sympathetic male narrator songs where the narrator is a vulture circling dying relationships wishing to prey on broken women. For examples, one can think of Shawn Mendes’ recent hit “Treat You Better” as a representative of songs of this type.
Make no mistake, there are a lot of women in this world who can identify all too strongly with the woman in the narrative of “When She Cries.” There are many broken people, both men and women, who have failed themselves and failed others by getting into bad relationships, by not getting into relationships at all, or by sabotaging what could be good relationships. There are many people who feel under compulsion to present a brave and stoic face to what is seen, not without reason, as hostile and unfriendly while unburdening themselves in private behind closed doors when they think they are alone with the suffering and torment inside. How many points do we give to people who can recognize a troubled and dysfunctional situation that they are in and who wish to improve and overcome despite the immense difficulty involved? When it comes to our regard for others, how much do we respect good intentions, and how much do we grade only on results? Such questions are at the heart of this song, and in the restless hearts of so many troubled people around us, including perhaps even ourselves.
 See, for example: