I’ve talked about Christmas songs in the past, but here’s the tune I’d consider the best of all Holiday songs without hesitation; Same Old Lang Syne. I remember hearing this bad boy, sung by Dan Fogelberg, at a young age, and it left an impression on me even way back then. It’s melancholy tone stood out in a sea of chipper holiday tunes, and resonated with me since I always found Christmas to be a difficult time of the year (having Asperger’s Syndrome in a time of the year thriving on social interactions is a pain in the ass).
Growing up though, I can also appreciate the inner intricacies of the song, which help explain why it’s managed to have such a large presence on the radio for 33 years. Now, things start out simple enough in the lyrics, with snow falling on Christmas Eve and the singer spotting his “…old lover in the grocery store”. After making his presence clear to her, she spills her purse in an attempt to hug him, a scenario that leaves both of them laughing.
This is such a small thing, a purse spilling, Why, the person whose purse was spilled likely wouldn’t even remember it an hour later. But it makes its way into the song as a reinforcer of the realistic atmosphere of the tune. The two don’t embrace in the rain, kissing passionately; they can barely hug before a new calamity rears its head. That kind of attention to the tiny details of reality help make the song pop to life, which continues as the two’s spot to chat isn’t an elegant villa but rather the back of a car with some booze.
As the two converse about their lives, a mood of nostalgia overtakes the song that a listener can’t shake even after the song concludes. She talks about marrying an architect, while the singer says his work as a touring musician is lacking despite an encouraging audience. The conversation between the two is kept simple but engaging, as one can easily see these two wondering if they should make another shot at a relationship, try it again. But they also know that there’s a reason they broke up, they can’t try to repeat the past. They never state that reason, and they don’t need to; that element of mystery just makes their discussion all the more compelling.
As the wonderfully worded song enters it final verse (I love the use of the word eloquence), the former lover gives the singer a kiss and drives away. As he stands there, he notes
Just for a moment
I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to my way back home
The snow turned into rain
Love is a tough thing. It has moments of beauty, but it also has pain. As the saxophone wails after those final words, the song just allows a feeling of wistfulness and sorrow sweep over the listener. Fogelberg doesn’t have anger in his final lines, he imbues the song with a sense of simultaneous acceptance and sorrow. The song doesn’t have a happy ending that may find the two ex-lovers reuniting, but it shouldn’t. That’s not how life works, and Same Old Lang Syne knows that all too well. This sort of downbeat emotion is universally known, and it;s the kind of emotion that hit me on a personal level years ago, and is even more effective to me today.