4 Songs That Sing the Blues (and How to Beat Them)

Feb 06, 2003 |Steve Shadrach

Some of the richest, most successful people in the world are lonely. Maybe you are, too. You don’t have to be.

Scrolling through the music archives, we come upon the man of mystery, rock and roller Roy Orbison, with his jet black shades to match his jet black hair, who was popular for more than just his hit song, “Pretty Woman.” Before the award winning movie came out, named after Orbison’s song, most believed his 1960 chart topper “Only the Lonely” was his greatest work. Now, in the quiet of my own office, pecking away on the old laptop, I’m trying to stimulate my creative juices by looping this golden oldie over and over again. His deep baritone voice crooning:

Only the lonely know how I feel tonight.
Only the lonely know this feeling ain’t right.
Only the lonely know why I cry. Only the lonely.
Maybe tomorrow, a new romance.
No more sorrow, but that’s the chance.
Only the lonely know why I cry. Only the lonely.

As wealthy and famous as Orbison was, many of his songs seemed to have a dark and forlorn feel to them, seeming to reflect the pain in his own life. Born in a small Texas town in 1936 and dying of a heart attack in 1988, Orbison was acquainted with grief, having lost his wife and two sons in a two-year period, and with a career described, at best, as up and down.

Even the fun, up-tempo song “Pretty Woman” speaks of his isolation. Let me crank it up a bit and let you in on a few of the lyrics:

Pretty woman, walkin’ down the street.
Pretty woman, the kind I’d like to meet.
Are you lonely just like me?
Pretty woman, stop for a while.
Pretty woman, talk for a while.
Are you lonely just like me?
Pretty woman, don’t walk on by.
Pretty woman, don’t make me cry.
Are you lonely just like me?

Orbison wasn’t the only artist to sing of his feelings of rejection and desolation. Maybe you’ve heard of Britney Spears or Puff Daddy (excuse me, P. Diddy!). They each sing a song simply named “Lonely.” One of the best selling albums of all time was my Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” If I searched really hard, I bet I could find that 33 rpm piece of plastic antiquity somewhere in my attic! Ageless Cher knows her audience when she sings “This Is a Song for the Lonely” even though Ricky Martin counters with his Latin salsa “Nobody Wants to Be Lonely.”

Now we get specific by dividing our periods of lostness and desperation when country star Mickey Gilley sings of “Lonely Nights” while the group Mest wails away about “Lonely Days.” Talisman in their album “Humanimal” may know just how widespread this epidemic of desertion and abandonment is when they rock on about our “Lonely World.” How about beautiful Janet Jackson? Even her? With all her money and talent? Lonely? Apparently so. She pours her heart and soul out on one song, proclaiming “I Get So Lonely Tonight.” Maybe after all these descriptions, you’re “Sick of Being Lonely.” Surprise! That’s the name of one of Field Mob’s greatest hits!

Why do I dwell so much on this one lonely topic? Aren’t there other issues that face mankind besides this single, solitary struggle I speak of? Of course, but this is a biggie. How big? Mother Theresa was asked toward the end of her life of sacrifice and service, “What is the greatest human tragedy?” Expecting her to say “poverty” or “disease” or “lack of love”, she quietly uttered one word: “Loneliness.”

Loneliness? How could anyone be lonely with a world of almost 6.2 billion people surrounding us night and day? Even though 6,279 people die each hour, 15,020 are being added. Hey, let’s party! That nets out to 8,741 new friends every single hour! Loneliness seems like the last emotion we would experience with a wall-to-wall world of 6.2 billion people. The reason, of course, is because we’ve all put walls up. Two-way walls that keep everyone out and keep us in; safe and toasty and . . . lonely.

In my short life, I’ve come to realize that many times the most lonely people are the ones that seem to have it all. Maybe they got to the top of the ladder and realized all the trappings of this life didn’t really satisfy them like they thought they would. The rest of us are still in the elusive search for fame, wealth and happiness. Will we be disappointed too if and when we achieve our dreams of a “perfect life”?

Many of today’s college students are determined to defy the odds. Deep down they might suspect that money doesn’t bring happiness, but why not give it a try? In fact, a whopping 52 percent of students think they’ll be millionaires before they reach the age of 40! Another 19 percent think it will happen after age 40, while almost a third of students (29 percent) have already given up hope it will ever happen. These statistics are taken from UCLA’s annual survey of hundreds of thousands of entering freshmen each year across the country. The polling also revealed what percentage of those surveyed thought one of the objectives listed below was “very important” to them:

  1. Being very well off financially - 73.4%
  2. Raising a family - 73.1%
  3. Helping others - 61.7%
  4. Owning a successful business - 39.3%
  5. Cleaning up the environment - 17.5%

It appears that most college students’ (and probably most Americans) highest achievement in life is to be “very well off financially.” Maybe money will buy us friends and friends will buy us happiness. Besides, doesn’t Proverbs 19:4 teach us that “wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him.” But will lots of cold hard cash drive away the gnawing emptiness in our souls? Will the vacuum be filled when we’ve acquired all the comforts and conveniences we’ve always fantasized about? In my day it was summed up in the bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” If the acquiring of material things beyond our wildest dreams doesn’t defeat loneliness, then what does?

Hey, enough questions, statistics, and Bible verses. Let’s get back to the tunes! Certainly, a rock and roll history lesson from “The King” would come in handy right now. Let me pump up the volume so we can listen in on “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley.

Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It's down at the end of Lonely Street
at Heartbreak Hotel.

You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.

And although it's always crowded,
you still can find some room.
Where broken hearted lovers
do cry away their gloom.

You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.

Hey now, if your baby leaves you,
and you got a tale to tell.
Just take a walk down Lonely Street
to Heartbreak Hotel.

Only six weeks before the death of Elvis Presley a reporter asked, “Mr. Presley, you said earlier in your life that you wanted to obtain wealth, fame, and happiness. Did you?” The king glanced at him and wistfully looked away and said, “The first two, yes. But the last? I’m lonely.” How could that be? He was surrounded by waves of adoring fans wherever he went. He could have anything or anyone he wanted. The same with Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, even Kurt Cobain. They all sought and gained money, pleasure, even legend status from this world ─ but it didn’t satisfy them. All three, like Elvis, took their own life. What could be the source of their loneliness? For them contentment turned out to be like a mirage in the desert, ever searching for something they would never attain.

The fourth (and final) song I’ll pull quotes from is a sad ballad that Elvis sang to his swooning fans entitled “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Join with me as I sway to the sweet melody of his soothing voice. . . .

Are you lonesome tonight?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Is your heart filled with pain?
The world’s a stage and each must play a part.
Now the stage is bare, and I’m standing there, with emptiness all around.
If you won’t come back to me, then they can bring the curtain down.

Sure enough, at age 42, this heartthrob of America, from little Tupelo, Miss., was dead. Instead of allowing his Creator to “bring the curtain down” he chose to end the play himself. His pain had driven him from loneliness to depression and finally to death.

Dr. Frank Minirth, a psychologist and author that was also a seminary professor of mine, spent years studying people who were struggling with loneliness and depression. He claimed the two were tied together, and as a result, gave us a definition of depression as simply “a lack of intimacy with God and/or others.” I think he’s right. You see, at one point in my life, I was incredibly depressed. I was under tremendous stress, but it wasn’t the anxiety that pulled me under. It was the fact that I didn’t have anyone to share my pain with. I was lonely. And loneliness many times leads to depression.

I’m wondering. Are you lonely tonight? If you are, it could be because of lack of intimacy with God and/or Lack of intimacy with others. The opposite of loneliness is intimacy. The solution to loneliness is intimacy: intimacy through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and intimacy through personal relationships with others.

A wealthy lawyer confronted Jesus, quizzing him as to what the greatest commandment was. You know what Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Breaking down the walls, opening up our hearts, and taking the risk to love is the first step to intimacy. Seeking to love the Lord and those around us takes the focus off of ourselves. Loneliness and depression is all about us. Unconditionally loving God and others doesn’t leave time or energy for pity parties.

One person who modeled the Great Commandments to me went to be with his Great Commander this past summer. Spike White was the grand patriarch of Kanakuk, the world’s largest camp, nestled around the waterways of southern Missouri. He laid down his life for thousands of kids, parents, and counselors for almost 50 years. There wasn’t a selfish, “me-centered” bone in his body. Spike lived out the famous talk he would give every term to every camper entitled “God First, Others Second, and I’m Third.”

Yea, I’m sure Spike heard Orbison and Presley sing the blues of “Only the Lonely”, “Pretty Woman”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, but he was too busy following Christ by reaching out to “the lonely” of this world to worry about who loved him and who didn’t. Spike wouldn’t allow a big funeral service where myriads would gather to say nice things about him. Instead, he simply wanted his wife, sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and thousands like me to carry on his legacy of love.

Wrinkled up, sparkly eyed, work horse of a man, Spike White was a happy, fulfilled child of God even though he didn’t care a whit about obtaining riches or reputation. Instead, he chose a higher calling and understood that loneliness is simply a by product of ignoring intimacy and pursuing the wrong things in life.

How about you? Are you lonely tonight? Loneliness can end and intimacy begin for you — right now. Forget about yourself, start pouring your heart, soul, and mind into loving God and those people He has placed around you. Your life will be so full, there will be no time to sing the blues. You’ll just have to leave that for Roy, Elvis, and “only the lonely.”

Copyright 2003 Steve Shadrach. All rights reserved.

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