Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
Cause you don’t love me anymore.
(Skeeter Davis, The End of the World, 1962)
Skeeter, today we have all this searing indignation on the airwaves and on our devices, but as I listen to your hit song from that year, all I hear is the sweet sadness in your voice. You ask those poignant questions so innocently: Why does the sun go on shining? Why does my heart go on beating? And of course the very Ophelian Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? Yes, I realize you are long dead and along the way you probably found the answers to these probing questions. But I really hope that wherever you are now, you are not looking for the love that you lost. At least not the one you lost then. I have a startling confession to make: I had never even heard of you before I found your record among my mother’s things after she passed. There are so many versions of the song (over sixty when I looked it up on Wikipedia). So I hope you’re not vexed if I say I didn’t know yours. But it was indeed the first. And I can see now why my mother owned a copy.
The year you recorded it, a lot of people were asking the very same question – about the end of the world, I mean. Soviet ships were carrying that devastating cargo to Cuba, as you know. And the Americans stood their ground with their own terrible weapons. Which made for rather precarious times.
But in the end there was no end. In the end life went on.
Not for Marilyn, this is true. But that was a different scene. Death comes to us (or not) in so many different ways. They found all those pills beside her bed, just two months after your session in the studio. And for that matter, less than two weeks after that, they shot a guy, Peter Fechter, in Berlin while he was trying to escape over that barbed wire wall into his own hobbled freedom. Life can be awful, and sometimes you just want to run away from it. I know that. We are having our own little global crisis at the moment, with this virus keeping everyone at home and scaring a lot of people and creating havoc with the health centers and schools and government offices. And taking some of the weaker ones around us. That’s how my mother died. Her heart wasn’t the strongest. I didn’t know it would be so fast.
I suppose we are never prepared for death – our own or anyone else’s.
My mother was just a budding teenager when your record came out. I assume she’d saved up to buy it – against the will of her parents, who listened only to classical music. She loved all those protest songs and those paeans to uprising and misunderstood genius and so on. Much later, I was just ending my own teens when I left home. Please don’t ask what music I was listening to. I think you would have found it rather grinding and incoherent. Anyway, it was after that, my mother and I didn’t speak for almost twenty years. We were both so stubborn and self-righteous. Mostly me, I guess.
Before the virus took her, the visits were not that many. She would go on about the terrible food and the uninspired entertainment evenings in the center. She kept mostly to herself. Once she told me about a yellow-throated bird she saw hopping out on the window ledge, and for the space of a few seconds her eyes glimmered like I knew them when I was a little girl.
The year 1962 was quite the year, as we know now. But it might surprise some to learn that the Beatles were firmly rejected by Decca Records at first. They did not despair, though: we all know what happened to them after that. And Maria in West Side Story, well, she lost Tony in the end but the film also won the Oscar that year. And John Glenn orbited the Earth no less than three times. And Bob Dylan made his first album. (Would you know he’s still going strong and released a new album this year!) And how about Wilt Chamberlain scoring a hundred points in a single game? And James Meredith becoming the first black student at University of Mississippi – the same James Meredith who would later lead the largest civil rights march in the state.
Skeeter, I do miss my mother. It’s different when you know someone is still around. As I say, we were never all that close. But your voice now somehow makes me feel closer to her. Sometimes I listen to your song before going to sleep. I let it carry me to another time, like a lullaby, and in doing so I almost believe all that headstrong self-righteousness was just the fabric of a garment we wore to stave each other off, she and I. And which, at this moment in history, all of us are wearing down here in this crazy strife-ridden beleaguered nation: wearing, not because that’s who we are, but because it scares us to expose ourselves so nakedly. Plain honesty, the stark truth. These sound so easy, don’t they? Listening to you now, I try to imagine what it was like for my mother to listen to your words and ask those same questions all those years ago, maybe even just before she left this place.
Why does the sea rush to shore? Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? I hope she, too, has found her answers. And, like you, has found her peace. I’d appreciate it if you could keep a lookout for her. And maybe even for us down here if you can spare a moment.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Francis Fernandes grew up in the US and Canada. He studied in Montréal and has a degree in Mathematics. In the last ten months, his work has appeared in The Zodiac Review, Amethyst Review, Beyond Words, What Rough Beast, Poems in the Afterglow, Third Wednesday, Poetry Potion, Montréal Writes, Underwood, Little Death Lit, Bywords, Enclave (Final Poems), Pace Magazine, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, Defenestration Magazine, Literary Yard, Saint Katherine Review (forthcoming). He lives in Frankfurt, Germany, where he writes and teaches.