Friday, November 12, 2010

Beloved Wife

Beloved Wife (from the album Tigerlily)

Words:

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me

You were the love
for certain of my life
for fifty years simply me beloved wife
with another love I'll never lie again
it's you I can't deny
it's you I can't defy
a depth so deep into my grief
without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
as my right
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife
my beloved wife

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain

My love is gone
now my suffering begins

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
surrender all the joy in my life
go with her tonight?

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
just turn my face away from the light
go with her tonight?



"It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch."

That statement has been attributed to everyone from William Alfred to Spalding Gray. The first time I heard it was when I was listening to a radio story about the journalist Page Smith. In a column Smith wrote about old age and dying, he made this statement: "The consolations of an old marriage are the good news. The bad news is that one partner in a marriage, however idyllic, will pre-decease the other." Then he quoted the words above. When his wife of 53 years died in 1995, he lasted all of two days before succumbing to his own death.

I suppose stories like this should prevent even the most hard-hearted of us from thinking that the story told in Beloved Wife is the stuff of overly romantic imagining. Then there's the real-life inspiration for the song.

"My grandmother fell into a coma in 1983, and my grandfather would sit with her for hours and hours. She passed away, and three days later he did too. He willed himself to go with her." - Natalie Merchant, Denver Post - November 1995

You probably have your own variations on this story. Whether it's your parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors or maybe even you that has experienced the loss of a lifetime partner, the sentiment behind Beloved Wife is universal.

That all being said, though, I think this song walks the tightrope.

Most of the time, I think that the thing that makes Natalie's music stand apart is, first and foremost, her lyrics. As beautiful as her voice is, I don't think nearly as many people would be interested in listening to it if the words she sang were of a lesser quality. (Think Hit Me Baby, One More Time - the Natalie Merchant version. No, I'm sorry, don't do that. I didn't mean it, I was just upset. I said I was sorry!) But Beloved Wife is a different story. While the lyrics are certainly poignant and moving, they are also very direct and simple and if someone else was singing them, this song could really fall flat.

Musically, Beloved Wife seems pretty close to a country song. Now this time go ahead and indulge the dark side of your imagination for a minute and think of what this song would sound like if a popular modern country artist were singing it. Someone like, say, Kenny Chesney or Faith Hill. (I just Googled "popular country singers" so that I could come up with some names for you, so don't say I don't do my research.) Just hear it for a minute, in your mind's...ear.

Not pretty, is it?

Not to say it would be terrible; it would still be a well-written song, regardless of what style it was presented in. But the thing that makes this song so distinctively moving, and prevents it from ever becoming merely sentimental, is Natalie's voice. I find it hard to believe that too many others, in whatever musical style, could do the song justice.

I love how on the lyric "a depth so deep into my grief" her voice falters on the word "deep." She holds back no emotion, but as is her custom, pours her whole heart into what she's singing. The result is a song that not only touches you, but that wraps its long fingers around your heart and pulls you into the deep with it.

Watch a live performance of Beloved Wife here

Buy Beloved Wife on Itunes: Beloved Wife - Tigerlily

13 comments:

  1. Beautiful song - sad sentiment - I like your analysis - Paul

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Paul -

    Thanks for the compliment. I have to confess - of all the posts I've written on this blog, Beloved Wife is the one that makes me cringe the most. I didn't come close to doing justice to this song. But I'm glad you liked it, makes me feel better!

    ReplyDelete
  3. i've just come to the tigerlily album - don't know where it came from - the mrs says it isnt hers, it's not mine, but i'm glad i have.... but man this song chokes me up rotten. so does seven years :'(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous -

      I love when music shows up inexplicably. I must confess I never heard Tigerlily until I got married and found it in my husband's CD collection. Always loved this song...but hate this post I wrote about it! Ugh, writer's remorse.

      Yeah there are some real tearjerkers on Tigerlily. I think sometimes Natalie derives pleasure from making us cry.

      Thanks for writing!

      Delete
  4. Annie,

    I lost my wife 6 months ago to cancer. I can tell you that everything in this song is true. We were married for 15 years and I would give anything (including all of my remaining days) for just one more minute with her in my arms.

    It is not a choice to surrender all the joy in one's life. All of the joy in my life died with her.

    I only wish I could simply turn away from life and join her. But she made me promise to go on, so I do.

    Thank you for discussing this beautiful song,

    tg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I could reply to you in a way that matches the eloquence of your comments, but I'm simply not that gifted. I'm so, so sorry you are enduring such a terrible loss. If you ever want to talk more at length, even just to ramble on to someone for awhile, I'll be pleased to listen - nmcompendium@yahoo.com.

      Delete
  5. the above post made me cry. for someone to love someone else so deeply, is beautiful. My heart aches for Anonymous... for something so special to be ripped away from two people is such an immense tragedy. I wish you more tears of joyful remembrances than tears of longing sorrow, in your suffering.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Morning Annie...

    I came here through Google when I searched for something about this song. I lost my Wife to cancer early in 2013 after a two-year fight to get a cure. Natalie Merchant is an old favorite of mine, a friend having shared the Tigerlily recording with me a couple of decades ago. The entire album bears many listens as I think it's one of the deepest collection of songs I've encountered.

    My Beloved Wife is a song that carries deep meaning, particularly for those of us married for many years. I was married for almost 40 years when Wife died. It was a terrible thing to go through the process of helping her through her illness and then through the final days. But the process taught me a lot of about devotion, love, and character. In the process, I learned that selfless love can be a fierce thing.

    I would rather have not gone through Wife's illness and loss. I would rather not have gone through the grief of the last year. But those things were not given to me to decide. This song has been there many times to remind me of what we had and what was lost. It exemplifies the grief of losing a life mate.

    But it doesn't address there is another side to the grief. The sense of loss doesn't go away, but it is reduced to something manageable if one sticks with it. Then there comes a time when one asks "What is next?" Because everything changes when one becomes single again.

    I'm trying to figure out "what's next" now. I had my year of grief and now I need a year to determine what will be.

    Thanks for your analysis and for the lyrics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ruminator for writing. I was always unhappy with what I wrote about this song and wrote about it again because of messages like yours that I have received. I can't begin to imagine how difficult your experience has been. I know how much music comforts me during difficult times and I'm glad that this song has been a comfort to you. I hope someday you'll get a chance to tell Natalie Merchant what you just told me. Thanks again for writing.

      http://nataliemerchantcompendium.blogspot.com/2012/10/beloved-wife-take-two.html

      Delete
  7. I played this song many times and thought it was just another sappy song.
    Then My wife of 34 years passed away after fighting cancer for 9 years.
    She died in the house with me all alone just her and I as it has always been.
    I put the album on and this sappy song came on.
    I must have cried for hours everything meant something to me.
    It has been over a year now and I played it again and the tears came back again.
    I promised my wife when we married I would stick with her through thick and thin.
    We went through hard times with each other.
    We went through good times too.
    My very existence in life was to take care of her and now she is gone.
    All of my family is gone and I am now the only one.
    How much more can a man go through.
    I have lost a hundred pets and a hundred family members.
    If it were even a thousand.
    Nothing would or ever will compare to the loss of My Beloved Wife.:(




    ReplyDelete
  8. Hmmm...not quite sure here. First of all, we're on the same page as far as Natalie Merchant is concerned - a unique and exquisite artist.
    However, I think she could sing the Periodic Table and I'd find it fascinating, since her voice has so many nuances. So I don't agree when you say "As beautiful as her voice is, I don't think nearly as many people would be interested in listening to it if the words she sang were of a lesser quality".
    The lyrics come later for me, like a fine wine being allowed to breath and slowly revealing its complexity. I usually find myself singing fragments of one of her songs before gradually putting it all together and then (inevitably!) googling the lyrics to see the whole picture! But not knowing the words at the outset doesn't detract from the song for me (personally) - it's like a delicious gift that I know will come at a later point.
    I do think the way she imbues her lyrics with such emotion - as you point out in the line 'a depth so deep into my grief' is what transcends her beyond other artists.
    For example, I only heard the TigerLily album in its entirety this weekend, having somehow overlooked it in my 10,000 Maniacs / Natalie Merchant collection, and the song 'River' instantly drew me in - the changes in key, mood, and tempo combined with the jigsaw puzzle of putting the lyrics together, meant that the song revealed itself in layers to me....but not knowing the lyrics at the outset didn't detract from it....so I guess I'm trying to say that first and foremost it's her voice & musicality that distinguish her, with the lyrics being a (fantastic) bonus.
    It would be a boring world though if we agreed entirely on everything, although I think we do both agree that Natalie Merchant is a rare (unique?) and extraordinary talent!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Its 2017 and I revisited this song with my daughter on a road trip. An absolutely beautiful song sung by a woman about 'My Beloved Wife". Previously I thought it was artistic license, but it could also work for a same sex relationship. If here was any intention there, in 1993 this would have been way ahead of its time.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject?
    merchant account travel business

    ReplyDelete