See the tree, how big it's grown / But friend, it hasn't been too long, it wasn't big." I can reasonably assume that a large number of you have already clicked away from this page: "Honey," a number-one hit for Bobby Goldsboro in 1968, is routinely listed among the Worst Songs Ever, somewhere between hokey and maudlin, hated by nearly as many people then as Rebecca Black's innocuous "Friday" is hated today. You'd best believe, though, that if I can defend the likes of "Friday" and I can then I can find some redeeming social value in "Honey."
For one thing, "Honey" was written by the late Bobby Russell, one of our more astute country-ish songwriters, and he's always had more important things to do than jerk tears. Your attention is directed to his solo hit "1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero", which sums up its protagonist in what seems to be a throwaway line: "Christmas, took the kids down to see the floats / When he wanted to stay home and watch the Baltimore Colts." Greater love hath no man for his family than this, even if the Colts did eventually sneak out of town to Indianapolis.
And Russell throws us a curve early on: "She'd been sittin' there and cryin' / Over some sad and silly late, late show." This sets up poor Honey as overly emotional, so we don't take her seriously from that point on. Which is where we fail, spectacularly so, when we get to the line "I came home unexpectedly / And caught her cryin' needlessly / In the middle of the day." We dismiss that because, well, good Lord, the girl cries over old movies, fercrissake.
But look at the middle of that line again. "Needlessly." Nothing brought this on. Nothing we know of, anyway. And it was, yes, in the early spring, with all those damned birds and everything, when she "went away." Which, of course, is a euphemism, an attempt to soften the blow, if not for public consumption; for our own peace of mind.
Because the next verse deals with a departure more permanent, and it came later than that. It had to have; otherwise, what's the point of starting it with "One day when I was not at home"? And those angels coming? She called them.
The song makes no sense any other way: poor Honey, wrestling with demons we can't even begin to imagine, took her own life. So much for "And I'd love to be with you / If only I could."
You do not want to know the expression on my face when this actually occurred to me, while the song was playing, while I was driving home from work. For that matter, I don't want to know the expression on my face, especially given the vagaries of my music-player shuffle, which then served up Petula Clark's "Kiss Me Goodbye" (!) and B. B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" (!!) in rapid succession. The closest I can come is a Season 4 episode of The Simpsons in which the new kid on the block, voiced by Sara Gilbert, reaches into Bart's ribcage, tears loose his heart, and drop-kicks it out of sight, saying, "You won't be needing this." (I checked; it was written by Conan O'Brien. Somehow it figures.)
I am willing to allow for the possibility that I may have had suicide on the brain of late. No, not my own. I have been, however, reading a biography of Assia Vevill Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006) and to me, anyway, there is something a bit troubling about the fact that Wevill and Hughes were carrying on an affair while Plath was descending into her own particular madness. Worse yet, six years after Plath's death, Wevill killed herself, taking her daughter by Hughes with her. I am, however, reasonably certain that neither Sylvia Plath nor Assia Wevill would have given much of a damn about tree growth.
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Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill