Read ‘Em And Weep

This evening as I was heading off to dinner, I found myself listening to satellite radio, which was playing the top 40 for this week in 1983. 1983 is recognized as one of the greatest years in music history, and one of the songs that was playing as I drove to dinner a song was playing from Barry Manilow that struck me as the sort of song in which everything was trying so hard to be a hit except that the composition of the song was itself far too wordy to really hit the mark as everyone meant it should.

I puzzled about this for a while, until I got home and was able to look up the song, and realized that it was written by Jim Steinman for Meat Loaf’s largely forgotten sophomore album “Dead Ringer,” where it was an unsuccessful single that did not chart until Barry Manilow took the song to #18. By some standards, then, the song was certainly a success, being Manilow’s last top 40 hit in the United States and it being a hit on the AC charts as well as a top 20 at pop. For me, though, the song just falls short as a single, largely because the lyrics are caught in that unhappy middle ground between trying to claim that words cannot express the deep emotions of the narrator while also not being very good at expressing the deep emotions of the singer. It is one thing to claim that words fail to express one’s heart as one is doing a competent job at expressing and communicating one’s feelings and another to claim that words fail as they are actually failing, while simultaneously being overly wordy, but Read ‘Em And weep manages to provide an unhappy example of listening to words fail even as the soaring production and backup singers are trying so hard to make the song sound like a grand statement of frustration at a failing extremely intimate relationship in its dying throes.

What was the appeal of the song to Barry Manilow, considering the song had not been a hit before? There are at least several possible areas of appeal. For one, the song itself is a very wordy and poetic one, too wordy in fact, but the sort of composition that would appeal to someone who wants a high-drama song. One could want that because one thinks it will be successful or, alternatively, want it because it reflects one’s own emotional state. Even as someone who is fond of the collaboration between Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, I find the song overwritten and a bit disappointing. It is easy enough to see why the song might appeal to someone, though, in the throes of a relationship that is falling apart.

Communication is hard. We do not easily find words for all that we want to say, nor are our words understood as we would wish them to be. Yet the reason we continually end up falling back on words is because even if they are limited, they are far better than the alternative in allowing us to shape how we are read. We cannot help but try, fail as we often do, to get people to understand what we are trying to say. We may want people to look at our eyes, read ’em and weep, but they are just as inclined to laugh at the sorrow they see there than cry. Our feelings matter because they are our own, and we want them to matter to others because we want to matter to them. That longing is the source of a great deal of art, whether good or bad as the case may be.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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