The Saddest Song in All The World

I've published a new personal essay over on Medium. As that site limits how many stories you can access before hitting a paywall, I'm reprinting it below as well.


But that’s not the song I’m talking about. I’m talking about the closing theme.
It’s hard to put my finger on what it is about that brief, nearly forgotten piece of incidental music that has such a hold over me nearly a half-century later, ushering in waves of melancholy even now as I preview this clip. While nearly as spritely as the vocal opening it reprises, there is something just a little haunting in the understated melody, with its jittery little piano fills. But I think it’s more a matter of association than anything inherently downbeat in the music itself. Because for a brief period of time during my childhood, the rolling of those end credits meant that Saturday was coming to a close.
Needless to say, the songs sound nothing alike. I can’t imagine that anyone else out there would make the connection, and I have no reason to believe Tweedy (or the pianist on the tune, LeRoy Bach) had grown up on the show the same way I had. But there was something in those gentle piano touches, paired with the song’s overwhelming feeling of resignation (with its recurring question, “Can you be where you want to be?”), that instantly and irrevocably linked the two in my mind.

Unlike the closing music to a long-gone television show, this particular song, a stand-out on one of my all-time favorite albums, isn’t something I can, or would want to, avoid hearing.


  1. "Farther On"

    In my early years I hid my tears
    And passed my days alone
    Adrift on an ocean of loneliness
    My dreams like nets were thrown
    To catch the love that I'd heard of
    In books and films and songs
    Now there's a world of illusion and fantasy
    In the place where the real world belongs
    Still I look for the beauty in songs
    To fill my head and lead me on
    Though my dreams have come up torn and empty
    As many times as love has come and gone

    Jackson Browne from 1974, along with the inimitable David Lindley
    I read your book. Thanks. I'm 20 years older than you are but went
    through many of the same musical changes you did, finally opening
    one of the used record stores you used to haunt when you first heard
    McCartney. I was friends with Barry who owned Princeton Record
    Exchange. I had a college radio show when the first Velvet Underground
    promo LP came in, along with Cream, Zappa, etc etc ad infinitum.
    Still, you have turned me on to some music I've never heard. I open
    all of your posts. You're a good writer. Keep it up.

    1. Thank you so much, I really appreciate the kind words! Jackson had such a way with lyrics (at least in his earlier days). Funny, I was back in Princeton not long ago, before the pandemic's resurgence, and walked by the Princeton Record Exchange... and I didn't even go in. I still miss my close relationship with record stores, such a big part of my life for so many years, but now when I occasionally go inside I just feel at a loss. The hazards of having pretty much anything I could possibly want to hear available at the click of a button.

  2. Also loved the theme to Courtship of Eddie's father.

  3. I have also found the closing theme to very sad and melancholy. I've never not been overcome with emptiness when hearing. Thank you for this!


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