A sad song for a sad day. Godspeed, Harry.
Next time somebody tells you that country music sucks, play them this one while reminding them that no, the ten gallon all-hat-and-no-cattle cowboy antics of Lee Greenwood and Garth Brooks suck; real country music can be authentic, sublime, and almost as pained as the Delta Blues, while the best of it provides ample proof that haunting melody was never the sole province of urban sophisticates like Gershwin and Porter, or latter-day pop geniuses like Messrs. Lennon and McCartney.
If you’re fine with country, but inclined to the view that covering an old Jim Reeves classic is an odd choice for somebody like Pete Townshend, you don’t know Pete, and you should give a listen to the unplugged acoustic versions he’s recorded of ostensibly raucous tunes like The Kids Are All Right and I’m One (Pete pretty much invented the unplugged movement), and tap into the deep fount of melancholy from which those and so many of his other songs have sprung. For that matter, Heartache Following Me is by no means out of place where it sits on the solo album Who Came First, nestled among such gems as Pete’s own (and greatly superior) version of the Who’s Let’s See Action, the magnificent Pure and Easy, the surprisingly tranquil I Am Content (a deeply affecting hymn of hoped-for spiritual enlightenment), and the sweetly philosophical Time Is Passing, in which Pete takes in the wonders of the world around us and catches a fleeting glimpse of the eternal, and of a promised resurrection to come:
There’s something in the whisper of the trees
Millions hear it, still they can’t believe
There are echoes of it splashing in the waves
As an empire of dead men leave their graves
There’s a hell of a lot more to Townshend than hope I die before I get old.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Heartache Following Me was a favourite of Meher Baba, the Indian mystic and spiritual leader of whom Townshend, ever the seeker, was a long time devotee. What on earth does an old Country and Western lament to lost love have to do with cosmic truth? Maybe everything – maybe a vital step down the path to enlightenment is to accept that opening oneself to love is necessarily to risk pain. Or maybe Baba just took solace from a sad song the same way any of us would. Maybe all you need is half a heart, whether you’re nursing a beer in a dive bar somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon, or wandering the dusty roads of South Asia in a quest for the meaning of life, to respond to the sort of loneliness that brings a strong man to tears.