The Black Coach

There are a million songs that dread the darkness – Here Comes the Night, Twilight, Round Midnight – but the morning ain’t always a picnic. Billie Holiday knew it. In one of her songs, she wakes up and finds she is not alone…

Might as well get use to you hanging around
Good morning heartache
Sit down

Those first rays might be easier to face when you’ve had some shut-eye, but in another song Billie’s hours are slumberless. She addresses a dead lover: “Little white flowers will never awaken you, not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you.” She considers following the same path, as the composer of the tune, Rezsoe Seres, did in 1968 by jumping out his window. I wonder what would he think today seeing the lyrics online, along with the offer of a complimentary “Gloomy Sunday” ringtone for his cell.

There’s an interesting article about suicide in the New York Times. It challenges the accepted wisdom that most everyone who considers ending their life must have some degree of mental illness. Even so-called well-adjusted people can find themselves in dark places where impulse and the availability of means are critical factors, and death isn’t even the goal. A researcher who interviewed people who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge said “none of them had truly wanted to die. They had wanted their inner pain to stop; they wanted some measure of relief; and this was the only answer they could find. They were in spiritual agony, and they sought a physical solution.”

There is some debate about Nick Drake’s death by overdose when he was 26. Not everyone thinks it was suicide, but the spiritual agony part is more or less agreed upon. A lot of his songs reflect this, but there are some bright spots, such as “From the Morning.”

A day once dawned, and it was beautiful
A day once dawned from the ground
Then the night she fell
And the air was beautiful
The night she fell all around.

So look see the days
The endless coloured ways
And go play the game that you learnt
From the morning.

He doesn’t describe the game, but if the morning can teach us things, the lessons can slip away. Annie Dillard wrote probably the best description ever of waking up…

“These are morning matters, pictures you dream as the final wave heaves you up on the sand to the bright light and drying air. You remember pressure, and a curved sleep you rested against, soft, like a scallop in its shell. But the air hardens your skin; you stand; you leave the lighted shore to explore some dim headland, and soon you’re lost in the leafy interior, intent, remembering nothing.”

If only.