Not so long ago, I found myself having to write on a set title. I hadn’t chosen the title and it was hardly my favourite subject, but it got me thinking. This version is still fairly unpolished, but it might be worth trying it out.
The Torture of Farewell
I’ve probably had too much experience of ‘the torture’ of saying goodbye to want to write about it much. ‘Farewell, adieu, goodbye’. The words have an unwelcome finality, dating maybe from an earlier time when journeys took weeks, if not months, rather than hours and saying farewell meant what it said. Fare thee well. Until we meet again – if we do. And ‘goodbye’ – ‘God be with you (‘til we meet again)’ brings a tear to the eye, especially when sung at the end of a school year. And, as Ella Fitzgerald used to sing so memorably, ‘Every time we say goodbye I die a little .. cry a little.’ Ouch.
Whereas the informal ‘cheerio, cheers, ciao, tootle-pip,’ have an upbeat ring suggesting there will be not a little frolicking before the next meeting – which will not be too far ahead. A Bertie Wooster sort of thing. There will be jolly outings on the river, visits to the theatre, dinner parties and fun. No torture here, just the belief that life is made for fun so why let anything too serious get in the way?
The language of farewell features prominently in popular song. Cast your mind back, if you can, to the mid-20th-century hit charts. By that time, travel had become global and you could reach Australia in a day instead of a week’s continent-hopping. The song-writer Burt Bacharach came up with a tribute to travel and a lament for what it could do to a relationship:
‘Trains and boats and planes are passing by.
They mean a trip to Paris or Rome
To someone else but not for me.
The trains and boats and planes
Took you away, away from me.’
A modern Madame Butterfly perhaps? This sad, nostalgically lyrical sort of song set in a minor key was made a hit by Sandie Shaw in the Sixties, but another singer called Julie Driscoll gave it a more wistful, longing quality. People still hum it, quietly, at airports.
Good-bye is two-way process: doesn’t the trauma of farewell hit both parties, the traveller and the left-behind, equally? With ‘I’m leaving on a jet plane’, John Denver came along with the traveller’s viewpoint:
‘Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again.’
Denver’s original title for the song was, “Oh Babe I hate to go”. ‘I’m leaving’ is less predictable and the pain is there. No matter how fast the journey, it’s still distance that counts. So again Peter Paul and Mary trilled away with:
‘Freight train freight train going so fast
Freight train freight train going so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
So they won’t know where I’ve gone. ‘
Here is no tragic farewell, but rather a celebration of escape. It takes a lot of bottle – or desperation.
In the true antithesis of the tragic farewell song, Nancy Sinatra (daughter of the honey-voiced alleged chum of the Mob) made her big statement:
“These boots are made for walking
And that’s just what they’ll do.
One of these days these boots
Are goin’ to walk all over you.
Start walkin, boots.” (dum di di dum di di dum di di dum dum…)
The song was tailor-made for Nancy Sinatra, whose voice didn’t have a vast range, and I’ve sometimes wondered if that lyric wasn’t her way of getting back at Dad in a rather public youthful rebellion. ‘Hurrah’, everyone said, ‘Go for it, girl’. Except ‘go for it’ as an expression probably hadn’t been invented in the 1960s.
Earlier in the last century farewell songs were on everyone’s lips. World War One brought a mass of sentimentalised lyrics alongside some truly memorable songs. In 1914 no time was lost in popularising songs such as, ‘Your king and country need you’:
‘Oh, we don’t want to lose you
But we think you ought to go
For your King and Your Country
Both need you so
We shall want you and miss you
But with all our might and main
We shall cheer you, thank you
Kiss you when you come back again.’
With the benefit of hindsight, you might be tempted to change that last line to ‘if you come back again’. In its time fervent patriotism over-rode natural emotions and ties to loved one, but that didn’t stop it being parodied :
‘We don’t want your loving
And we think you’re awfully slow
To see we don’t want you
So please won’t you go.
We don’t like your sing-songs
And we hate your refrain
So don’t you dare sing it near us again.’
Then there was this:
Wipe the tear baby dear from your eye-ee
Though it’s hard to part I know
I’ll be tickled to death to go.
Don’t cry-ee, don’t sigh-ee
There’s a silver lining in the sky-ee
Bon soir old thing!
Cheer-i-o chin chin
‘Tickled to death to go?’ Oh my word. Makes it sound like a picnic. Oh dear. ‘Na-poo toodle-oo’ – anyone for tennis?
In the 21st-century, ‘See you later’ or ‘see you then’ joined the popular vocabulary of farewell: expressions of good intention and faith in the future, even between strangers. For a while ‘All right?’ was heard on street corners everywhere. But ‘Take care’ provides at least a courteous signing-off punctuation to interchanges. Some say it’s meaningless, but in uncertain times it at least suggests an underlying – or do I mean superficial? – sincerity. What with storm and tempest, ice and snow, motorway madness, viruses and general mayhem, you can’t be too careful.
Back to farewells: it’s not Romeo but Juliet who says:
‘Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.’
Isn’t that sweet? Fine for lovers with all night in front of them for saying good-night. But it all ends in tears, as we know.
Modern lovers have at their fingertips technology unknown to our national Bard (whoever he or she may turn out to be). The text. ‘Cheers. Thanks for everything. LOVE LOVE LOVE XXX’ is a mild version of what flies through the airways or bounces off the satellites, or whatever these things do. A well-chosen message after the departure can soften the blow of parting. ‘Text in! She’s arrived!’ you may shriek to your partner when a child texts from some remote corner of the planet. It helps.
I’m not that keen to write about the ‘torture of farewell’ because it’s too familiar, too close. However, in these days of Easy-jet easy-travel saying goodbye is hardly an isolated experience and people have to cope with that kind of highly personal stress all the time. So maybe there’s an opportunity to have a go at writing a lyric or two? Let me see now… ‘
Acknowledgements (to the best of my knowledge):
‘Trains and Boats and Planes’, Burt Bacharach, recorded 1965 by Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, 1966 by Dionne Warwick; and subsequently by many others.
‘Leaving on a Jetplane’, John Denver, recorded 1966 by Peter Paul and Mary.
‘Freight Train’, Songwriters: J (arr.) Baez, Elizabeth Cotten, Paul James, Fred Williams, recorded by Peter Paul and Mary c1966.
These Boots are made for walking’, Lee Hazlewood, recorded in 1966 by Nancy Sinatra, subsequently by others.
‘Your King and Country Need You’, Paul Rubens 1914
‘Good-byee’, P Weston and Bert Lee, 1917