You’ve Taken Away My Reason for Livin’

In the Temptations classic “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You),” the singer’s lover has just told him that she is leaving and he begs her to stay, pleading he could never love another. Many sources explain that the song, and in particular the line, “You’ve taken away my reason for livin’,” were based on a true story.

The story behind the song is that Rodger Penzabene, the songwriter of “I Could Never Love Another” and the similarly themed “I Wish It Would Rain” from the same album, lost his wife to another man. Penzabene and his wife had met as youths at Mumford High School. But sometimes love does not last forever. Reportedly he had taken his wife back after she had an affair, but she ended up leaving him after all. As the album with “I Could Never Love Another” climbed the charts, Penzabene killed himself on New Year’s Eve in 1967.

Nothing makes the story more convincing than the lead vocals on “I Could Never Love Another” by the great David Ruffin, who also died too soon from a tragic death. The way Ruffin sings the word “believe” in the first line immediately conveys the heartbreak and pain that permeates the entire song.

To the degree the backstory is true, though, we can never really know. Penzabene wrote the great song, and it seems he felt that heartbreak. But suicide is a complicated act. If everyone who is deeply heartbroken killed herself or himself, our species would have died out long ago. No doubt Penzabene’s feelings about his loss contributed to his final act, but I suspect there is more to the story.

Penzabene’s wife Helga Penzabene has tried to set the record straight by clarifying that Rodger did not kill himself over her. In 2012, she wrote in the comments to a post on Elvis Needs Boats that she was alive and well, living in Mount Clemens, Michigan. She has remarried twice, most recently divorced, and she still sings. She reported that she was working on a book about her life with Rodger. Hopefully it will help clear up the full story about him.

I suspect, though, that whatever is written in the book, many will still choose to believe the less complex heartbroken suicide version. We need tragic heroes, and the song is too good and the Temptations too awesome to believe that the songwriter did not kill himself after losing his reason for living.

Check out other posts in our series “The Story Behind the Song.” What is your favorite heartbreak song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Song of the Day: Hal Ketchum “I Miss My Mary”

    One of the many great country albums of the early 1990s was Hal Ketchum‘s Past The Point Of Rescue (1991). I picked up the CD after hearing Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night” from the album and seeing the video that included scenes from the movie The Terror of Tiny Town (1938). But the entire CD ended up on repeat play at my house for some time. One of the standout tracks on the album is “I Miss My Mary,” which reminds me of some of the great songs written by Keith Whitley.

    In “I Miss My Mary,” the singer recounts leaving his lover and child behind. The title gives away the sentiment of the song, but Ketchum’s aching vocals and the song’s lyrics reveal a lifetime of stories and sadness.

    Ketchum explained in an interview that the song has a true story as its source. While Ketchum was at the Orchard Inn bar in Northern California, he struck up a conversation with an old man who told how he had left his wife and child forty years earlier on that exact date. Inspired by the story, Ketchum went back to Texas and wrote “I Miss My Mary.”

    In the video from 2007 below, one may see that Ketchum’s appearance has changed since 1991, but his voice is still awesome. Check it out.

    If you wonder what Ketchum has been up to lately, like the speaker in “I Miss My Mary,” Ketchum has been through some challenging times. Ketchum explained to Billboard that he lost his taste for making music for awhile, and Twang Nation reveals how a 1998 diagnosis of the neurological disorder acute transverse myelitis required Ketchum to relearn basic motor skills.

    But Ketchum is back making music, and he has a new album coming out October 7, 2014 called I’m The Troubadour. The album’s genesis came from when Ketchum began writing songs in a cabin in Texas. Check out the title track below from I’m the Troubadour, Ketchum’s first album since 2008.

    What is your favorite Hal Ketchum song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • You’ve Taken Away My Reason for Livin’
  • What Did the Sea Say to the Shore?
  • 10 Reasons “I Don’t Want to See You Again” Is One of the Great Kiss-Off Songs
  • Cowboy Jack Clement: “I Guess Things Happen That Way”
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  • Heartbreak Recovery Songs: Getting Past Anger and Suffering
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    What Did the Sea Say to the Shore?

    One of the most beautiful songs of 2013 is “The Sea & the Shore,” written by Amy Speace and Robby Hecht. On the album How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat (2013), Speace performs the song with John Fullbright, who we had previously featured covering Steve Earle’s “Me and the Eagle.”

    “The Sea & the Shore” recounts a conversation between the water and the land, although of course it is about more than that. The verses open with the Sea and the Shore exchanging verses, with the Shore reminding the Sea it had left and the Sea reminding the Shore of the promise to return. The song mirrors a breakup between a man and a woman, using beautiful imagery. As things happen in the human world, the song ends in heartbreak.

    So the Sea took one last look and turned away,
    And the Shore was more than strong enough to stay;
    And castles melted back into the sand;
    Driftwood drifted up onto the land;
    Rocks rose up proud in shinny skin;
    Shells began their gossiping again.

    On Fullbright’s website, he explains that the video was filmed on a “bitterly cold day in Nashville this past January.” I agree with him that it was worth it.

    What do you think of “The Sea & the Shore”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • You’ve Taken Away My Reason for Livin’
  • Song of the Day: Hal Ketchum “I Miss My Mary”
  • John Fullbright and the Other Song Called “Happy”
  • 10 Reasons “I Don’t Want to See You Again” Is One of the Great Kiss-Off Songs
  • Cowboy Jack Clement: “I Guess Things Happen That Way”
  • Happy Earth Day: The Earth Rolls On
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    10 Reasons “I Don’t Want to See You Again” Is One of the Great Kiss-Off Songs

    I was happy to see Marty Brown‘s recording of “I Don’t Want to See You Again” is now on YouTube. Regular readers know Chimesfreedom is a fan of Marty Brown’s music, and this song is certainly in my top ten Marty Brown songs and one of my favorite songs of all time. “I Don’t Want to See You Again” appears on Brown’s sophomore album from 1993, Wild Kentucky Skies. The album is full of songs written by Brown that I love, but “I Don’t Want to See You” is one of only two songs on the album not written by Brown. It is easy to see why he chose this song written by Jackson Leap, as it suits his voice perfectly. Why do I love the song so much? Well, here are ten reasons.

    1. The opening line tells you everything you need to know about the story: “Don’t look so surprised,/ I told you I’d say goodbye/ if you couldn’t just make up your mind.” Perfect.

    2. In true empowering kiss-off fashion, the singer wants true love but realizes that the object of his song cannot give him the love he wants and deserves.

    3. The singer’s lover apparently has not been a good one, but she is still surprised by the news.

    4. The singer not only says goodbye, but he does not want to see or feel his lover again, which is the best way to end a bad relationship.

    5. The singer knows that his love will regret losing him (“When your teardrops finally come. . . “).

    6. The singer wants it all.

    7. The great country guitar riff playing throughout the song.

    8. Marty Brown yells “Babeeeee” and then “Yeeeeeeeeah” near the end. The latter is a scream of freedom.

    9. Although there is an underlying sadness of two lovers parting ways, the song sounds joyous, capturing the hope for the future.

    10. Marty Brown sings it.

    What is your favorite kiss-off song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Cowboy Jack Clement: “I Guess Things Happen That Way”

    Cowboy Jack Clement passed away this week in Nashville from cancer at the age of 82. The singer, producer, and songwriter had a long career with connections to some important figures in music history. Early in his career, Cowboy Jack Clement worked as a producer and engineer for Sam Phillips at Sun Records, helping discover Jerry Lee Lewis and recording him on such songs as “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” He wrote Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” and produced the singer’s recording of “Ring of Fire.” He also produced several U2 performances in 1987 for their Rattle & Hum album. And he continued producing music until his death, with his most recent work being on Cathy Maguire‘s upcoming 2014 album.

    In 2005, a movie called Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan focused on Clement’s career using his home movies. He had been in the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame since 1973, and he was going to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year.

    Among all of Clement’s accomplishments, the one that stands out for me is that he wrote the song, “I Guess Things Happen That Way.” The song was a hit for Johnny Cash in 1958. Almost four decades later, the song appeared on the excellent soundtrack to the underrated Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner movie, A Perfect World (1993). Here is Cash’s original version of the song. (A live 1994 version is also on YouTube, but I prefer the original recording with the background singers the 1950s slapback sound.)

    “I Guess Things Happen That Way” is one of the great heartbreak songs. In the song, the singer tells the listener about missing his lost love: “You ask me if I’ll miss her kisses./I guess I will, everyday.” He does not know if he will find another love (“I don’t know. I can’t say.).

    But what is great about the song is that amid the pain, the singer and the upbeat music — including the background ba-doo-pa-doo’s — contemplate life getting better: “You ask me if I’ll get along./I guess I will, someway.” And the wonderful refrain reminds all of the heartbroken that they are not alone, “I don’t like it but I guess things happen that way.” It is one of the most perfect songs about the contradictory agony and hope that comes from losing a love.

    Johnny Cash later recorded the song with Bob Dylan in 1969 while Dylan was making Nashville Skyline. “I Guess Things Happen That Way” did not end up on the album but you may listen to their version below. (Thanks to Michael Gray for pointing me to the Dylan-Cash collaboration.)

    Clement originally wrote “I Guess Things Happen That Way” from a man’s point of view: “Heaven help me be a man / and have the strength to stand alone.” But Emmylou Harris shows that the song is more universal by adding a few tweaks (“Heaven help me to be strong”) in this performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

    The song also may be performed as a man-woman duet, as shown by Kris Kristofferson and Norah Jones at a Johnny Cash tribute concert. The performance works equally well here as a tribute to Cowboy Jack Clement.

    Finally, here is a recent Clement performance of “Guess Things Happen That Way.” Paul Smith of Boundary Road accompanies Clement at the The Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa in Nashville, Tennessee.

    We are sad at the passing of Cowboy Jack Clement. But we are thankful for the work he created during his long career giving us a little extra joy and comfort for our short time here on earth. I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.

    What is your favorite Cowboy Jack Clement song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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