Thurston column: When treetops glisten

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 22, 2011

I have always been a sucker for good song lyrics. Theyíre only words, but as one lyricist remarked, ětheyíre all we have.î When I was a young boy, many Sundays were spent in the company of our large clan at one or another of the farms in the family. Two of my uncles would play the guitar and jewís harp, and other adults would join in singing old country songs with heartbreaking lyrics:
ěThereís a little box of pine on the seven-twenty-nine / Bringiní back the black sheep to the fold.î
Or ó
ěIím not in your town to stay, said a lady old and grey, / I just came to get my baby out of jail.î
Or ó
ěI saw a wreck on the highway, / But I didnít hear nobody pray.î
As I grew older, I began paying more attention to the words in songs. I realized that the best ones were genuine poetry. They had the power to thrill, sadden, enchant. I donít yearn for an often mythologized past. I tend to agree with the Carly Simon lyrics, that in many ways ěthese are the good old days.î I like rock and roll just fine ó but it dang near killed good lyrics.
Where once Cole Porter penned:
ěIím with you once more under the stars / Down by the shore, an orchestraís playing / Even the palms seem to be swaying / When they begin the beguine.î
We now have:
ěI just got to get loose / With you tonight / Let me take you home tonight / Mamma now itís alright / Let me take you home tonight / Iíll show you sweet delight.î
I wonít embarrass the source of the second set by identifying him, but speak up, ladies ń which would YOU rather be wooed with? Well?
I also discovered the power of good song lyrics to describe and make magical the world around us. I can easily imagine stars falling on Alabama, and I have seen with my own eyes ěautumn in New Yorkî and a ěbright golden haze on the meadow.î
The Christmas season seems to start earlier every year, but in my boyhood home, we marked the first radio play of Bing Crosbyís ěWhite Christmasî as our cue that we could safely start getting in the holiday spirit. Irving Berlinís simple, sweet lyrics captured the longing for home and family for the many separated from them during the tumultuous years of World War II.
Many years later, I had the happy chore of taking a granddaughter to and from nursery school. We would belt out ěSanta Claus Is Coming to Town,î ěRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerî and others, but Sarah would always insist on singing ěWhite Christmasî somewhere during the trip.
One day she asked me to explain what ětreetops glistenî meant. Well, I had no useful explanation for a four year old, until one winter day that dawned clear and cold after a freezing rain the night before. As we drove along, trees in the fields and yards suddenly lit up like crystal chandeliers as the winter sun rose in a brilliant sky. We ceased our singing and watched in awe as we moved through this wonderland. I turned excitedly toward my small passenger, strapped behind me in her booster seat.
ěSarah! Thatís it! Treetops glisten!î
Chuck Thurston is retired and lives in Kannapolis, NC. His email address is