As I tiptoed through police reports as I’m prone, one nearly jumped off the page at me: “Dead skunk on 26th Street, April 28.”
That could be any street, USA, but this report doesn’t specify just where in the road this skunk was lying, or if it was stinking to high heaven.
Anyone in my age group, and there are still a few around, are probably thinking, “Hmmm; a dead skunk stinking to high heaven; boy, that sounds familiar.” And well it should; it was a smash hit by Loudon Wainwright III when I graduated in 1972. After a brief summation of how this skunk came to be squashed by a station wagon, the chorus explains simply, “You got your dead skunk in the middle of the road, and it’s stinkin’ to high heaven.”
This is only significant because of my topic: All-time Greatest Song Lyrics. What makes for a standout lyrical refrain? Well, if it’s been intermittently stuck in my head for 48 years, it should qualify. I can’t speak for your head and what it clings to, but we all should agree a beer for breakfast on occasion hits the spot.
The inimitable Kris Kristofferson began his harrowing account of one such Sunday when he “… woke up Sunday morning, with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt; the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert. Then I fumbled in my closet for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt …”
I’ve been there, pal. A Sunday when a hangover teams up with spiritual guilt deeply ingrained as a kid in a Pentecostal church 2,000 miles away is indeed haunting. I see it clearly: “… then I crossed the empty street and caught the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken, and it took me back to something that I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way …”
The torturous memories kept coming: “… In the park I saw a daddy, with a laughin’ little girl who he was swinging; and I stopped beside a Sunday School and listened to the song that they were singing. Then I headed back for home and somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing, and it echoed through the canyons of the disappearing dreams of yesterday.”
Bring it home, Kris. “On the Sunday morning sidewalk, wishing, Lord, that I was stoned; ’cause there’s something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone. And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’, half as lonesome as the sound, on the sleepin’ city sidewalks … Sunday morning coming down.” Can I get an amen?
Similarly, Simon and Garfunkel offered another innocent young man alone on the city streets, missing family and his little hometown. At one point he bemoans, “Asking only workman’s wages I come looking for a job, but I get no offers; just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue. I do declare, there were time when I was so lonesome, I took some comfort there …”
And really, who hasn’t been there? Seventh Avenue, I mean; it’s a fairly well-known district. It reeks of dead skunks on any given Sunday.