dig the weary soul
May 4, 2014 7:51 AM   Subscribe

What songs, writing, and art expresses the theme of hopeful weariness beautifully?

I really, really love the theme of weariness, and the sounds of happiness and sadness all mixed together. For me, the perfect example of this are: Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come, Otis Redding's These Arms of Mine, and Neil Young's Helpless. I also really like Jean Toomer's Poem "Prayer" from Cane and that theme of hopeful impossibility in the last two lines.

What I'm hoping for are either specific recommendations for songs/albums/poems/books or ways to explore this theme methodically (like reading a particular book about Motown). Thanks MeFi!
posted by elephantsvanish to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Addendum: for Otis, (Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay is a better fit lyric-wise for the hopeful weariness theme, but there's something about the melody and chords in These Arms of Mine that hit that vibe especially well for me. Also, bad day for subject-verb agreement, yeesh.
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:55 AM on May 4, 2014

The first song that came to mind for me was:
American Tune - Paul Simon
posted by carmicha at 7:59 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try Warren Haynes' live set at Bonnaroo.

Also if you haven't listen to the album Transfiguration of Vincent.
posted by carsonb at 8:03 AM on May 4, 2014

I think Milton's sonnet "When I consider how my light is spent" fits this bill. It's traditionally titled "On His Blindness," but I read a persuasive article somewhere (C.S. Lewis??) suggesting that it was written before Milton went blind and is actually about writer's block and the experience of flagging creativity.
posted by Bardolph at 8:04 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe Gillian Welch's Hard Times? I'd recommend the entire The Harrow and the Harvest album if you dig that.
posted by TwoStride at 8:09 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Raise the Roof - Carbon Leaf
posted by ersatzkat at 8:20 AM on May 4, 2014

Little Victories - Matt Nathanson
posted by ersatzkat at 8:21 AM on May 4, 2014

John Prine has built a whole oeuvre out of this wistful mood. Start with "Pretty Good."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:23 AM on May 4, 2014

I think this might be close to the mood you're talking about -- there's a famous couple sections in Carl Sandburg's (very long) poem The People, Yes that articulate hopeful weariness. Here's just a few smaller pieces:

The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
"I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time." ...

This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can't be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise,
You can't hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?

In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
"Where to? what next?"

(I always thought it would sound very beautiful set to something like Motown music.)
posted by deathmarch to epistemic closure at 8:34 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is?" is one of my favorites.

I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a fire?"

posted by harperpitt at 8:35 AM on May 4, 2014

You might also like Rilo Kiley's "Pictures of Success"
posted by nkknkk at 8:50 AM on May 4, 2014

To add in the same vein of The Smiths suggestion, Morrissey's "Seasick, Yet Still Docked" might serve well.
posted by loquat at 12:42 PM on May 4, 2014

Fairport Convention, Meet On The Ledge.
The Band, I Shall Be Released.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:03 PM on May 4, 2014

Michael Kiwanuka is a British singer-songwriter whose songs are as close to a modern analogue to Otis Redding as you're going to get, although the sound is a little closer to "Dock of the Bay" than "These Arms of Mine." Best examples: Home Again; I'm Getting Ready; I'll Get Along.
posted by charleskinbote at 1:28 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would also add, hands down the best book on 60s soul music and its ability to capture "the sounds of happiness and sadness all mixed together" is Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music. Worth the price of admission for the chapter on Solomon Burke alone, but the entire book is worth a read.
posted by charleskinbote at 1:36 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always thought Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel captures this perfectly. Israel, sitting captive in a foreign land, is still hopeful for the coming Messiah who will restore them back to their prominence. It's immensely sad and hopeful at the same time. Two prominent verses:

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2014

Another religious piece might be The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. Weary despair that leads to desperation, and it culminates in a reconciliation that kindles hope in forgiveness.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:45 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Joni Mitchell's entire catalog is that mixture of "oh you taste so bitter and so sweet" but I find Hejira to have that in spades.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:56 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Much of Leonard Cohen's work, but for me, Democracy particularly suggests this feeling.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 4:51 PM on May 4, 2014

'Bittersweet Symphony' by The Verve is your theme song here.
posted by Salamander at 5:43 PM on May 4, 2014

Fairport Convention Who Knows Where the Time Goes

And another Sam Cooke, Peace in the Valley
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:21 PM on May 4, 2014

I absolutely cannot recommend enough that you read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 7:56 PM on May 4, 2014

aaaaaaghhh such great answers! I will be listening and reading and processing happily. Or with happy weariness. Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish at 8:33 PM on May 4, 2014

"The Vagabond," Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem.

The version I linked comes from Bryn Terfel's album of the same name, a collection of English art songs, many of which fit your description perfectly.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 10:48 PM on May 4, 2014

Great Lake Swimmers. "I'm just pulling on a line ... sometimes it pulls on me."

Mary Fahl, "Paulo." "when visions burned equations in your mind, you'd drown your reckoning in cigarettes and wine."

Snow Patrol, "This Isn't Everything You Are." "Don't keel over now."

And this song, to me, is the essence of collapsing into bed, exhausted, trusting that things might turn out okay:

What I wouldn't give if you could have it all:
The sun that's going down
The bed that breaks the fall
The cradle and the bow
So you can take comfort now
You can take comfort now...

posted by jbickers at 7:52 AM on May 5, 2014

Leonard Cohen, especially his early work.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:10 AM on May 5, 2014

Patty Griffin, I Don't Ever Give Up
"Love isn't here. Love isn't here, but it's somewhere."
posted by booth at 3:31 AM on May 20, 2014

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