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Lyrics and Life

 

By Caitlin Ward

10/07/2015
Pain in My Heart
Otis Redding

Pain in my heart
she’s treating me cold
where can my baby be
Lord no one knows.

Pain in my heart just won’t let me sleep
where can my baby be
Lord where can she be

Another day, as again it is though
I want you to come back, come back, come back, baby, ‘till I get enough
A little pain in my heart just won’t let me be
wake up at restless nights
Lord and I can’t even sleep

Stop this little pain in my heart

Another day as again it’s rough
I want you to love me, love me, love me, baby, ‘till I get enough
Pain in my heart, a little pain in my heart
stop this little pain in my heart
stop this little pain in my heart
someone stop this pain
someone stop this pain

 

The thing about Otis Redding is you can listen to him for only so long. Then you need to pull the car over and feel bad about things for a while.

Well, perhaps not quite. I mean, you might not have been in a car at the time. You might have had to stop walking and lie down in the road. Or, perhaps, you had to get up from your desk to weep while staring out the window. While it rains.

This might be a slight exaggeration. But not much of one. I really love Otis Redding, but I can only take so much. I don’t know if I’ve ever made it through more than half a dozen of his songs in one go. After the first few, I just start feeling vaguely uneasy and a little depressed. And I have to pull over, or at least change the song to something less gloomy.

I don’t think I was completely conscious of that fact until this evening, though. That is, I knew I only listened to a few Redding songs at a time, but I hadn’t really thought about why that would be. I thought I just had a few favourites. It never occurred to me that my favourites happened to be the first few songs on one record, and I had never heard the other half of it.

Tonight I was listening to his Stax/Volt recordings — part of a substantial singles collection a friend gave me in a fit of madness or generosity or both — and I started laughing a few songs in. It wasn’t anything particularly funny about that particular song. Rather, it was the fact that these songs were coming at me in waves of gut-wrenching misery; it had reached that critical point where it stopped being sad and started being morbidly funny. The sad arpeggios, the melancholy voice, the heartsick lyrics — it was too much. I laughed hysterically, alone in my apartment, on my couch. I felt a bit bad, but by God, it was hilarious.

In fairness, I’m pretty tired these days, so lots of things seem more funny than they probably are. So I went back to the beginning of the playlist to see if it was in my head.
It wasn’t. Without any rearranging, retooling, or fudging, these are the first lines of the first five Redding songs on my computer:

“These arms of mine / they are lonely.” (These Arms of Mine)

“You left me for another.” (That’s What My Heart Needs)

“Pain in my heart / You’re treating me cold.” (Pain in My Heart)

“Come to me / I’m lonely.” (Come to Me)

“Don’t leave me this way / I got no other place to stay.” (Don’t Leave Me This Way)

If you were wondering, I started laughing at the line, “pain in my heart.” Yes, I’m apparently heartless, myself.

We must conclude, if we are to believe his music, that Otis Redding was not the happiest of men.

I don’t know if I can criticize him too much for it, though. It might make me a hypocrite. I’m a bit notorious for always talking about when things go wrong, be it on a small scale or large. Today in class, for example, I wanted to talk about examples of repeating patterns in history, and how one of the great benefits of the liberal arts as a whole is that they give us the opportunity to learn from past and imagined versions of ourselves.

I don’t know why I decided that the best way to illustrate this was by talking about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Evil May Day, the Second World War, and civil war in Syria. But I did make that decision, and it kind of affected the mood of the class. We talked about xenophobia and genocide for the rest of the day. We’re fun like that.

One of my colleagues said to me after class, “with you, Caitlin, all roads lead to ethnic cleansing.”

Strangely, though, I don’t think I’m a particularly unhappy person. I’m quite hopeful much of the time. I believe in a common good and a better world. In fact, I tend to get very frustrated with the friend who gave me these Otis Redding singles in the first place, because he has so little faith in a humanity I so often love to the point of tears.

Perhaps that’s what hope really means, though: not that you talk about sunshine and light, but that you talk about gravely difficult things and not lose faith. Otis Redding wrote many, many sad songs about women who’d left him. He must have been pretty hopeful, himself, to have kept trying with this love business.

Otis and I might need to ease up on people, though. Not everyone is as optimistic as we are.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings