Gone at Last – Gone Forever

Once in a while from out of nowhere
When you don’t expect it, and you’re unprepared
Somebody will come and lift you higher
And your burdens will be shared

That’s the first half of the last verse of “Gone At Last”, written by imagePaul Simon and performed with the late Phoebe Snow. This is one of my favorite gospel songs by a contemporary (to me) artist and whenever I hear it, I remember the women in the choir of the church I attended as a child. It was impossible to remain downcast while listening to those ladies. There were a few men in the choir, but you never really heard them. Those women rocked for Jesus. Each week, they prepared, they practiced and they performed with the singular ambition of raising our spirits.

Ours was a small Methodist church, with a tiny choir but those women had a big voice. In fact, the whole congregation could crank the volume up on hymns. I’m not saying that the congregation or the choir for that matter was made up of good singers. Rather, they weren’t embarrassed about singing. I’ve taken both my wife and daughter there for a visit, and they both looked around to see where the singing was coming from, as if there were 20-30 people tucked away in the back.

We were taught to sing early in that church. We sang imagehymns in Sunday school, we had a junior choir and every year at Christmas, the Kindergarten Sunday School class performed “Jesus Loves Me” for the congregation. Frail timid voices standing in front of the church, the big people church, the upstairs church, under the tireless direction of Mrs. Merssing. We half sung and half mumbled our way through all three verses “…yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

By the time we were able to join the church as youth members, we were expert singers. Some of us had awful voices but we weren’t afraid to sing out loud in public.

Years later, when I first attended church with my wife, it was a Roman Catholic Church where they don’t really sing. Yeah, they sing a verse here, a verse there, but never all four verses and never loud enough to shake the foundation. I’m not sure if my wife was impressed or frightened by the fact that I didn’t have to open the Hymnal. The song was an old standard. I know the first verse of almost all of those. I can make it through 2 or 3 verses of some favorite ones like Amazing Grace without cracking the book open. Of course I was singing louder than anyone around us and I was a bit sad when the organist stopped playing after that first verse. On a hot day our minister might have said “let’s close by singing verses 1, 2 and 4 of…” but we never only sang one verse, never.

OK, enough of my trip down musical memory lane, let’s get back to people who can really sing, Paul and Phoebe.

Gone at last, gone at last
I’ve had a long streak of that bad luck
But I’m prayin’ it’s gone at last

Paul Simon wrote “Gone at Last” in 1975 and it was one of four Top-40 hits on the album “Still Crazy After All These Years.” When I first heard the song, I was still living my long streak of bad luck. I might have been prayin’ it would end, but the end wasn’t near. Several years later, events brought me to New England and I met what my boss calls “my trifecta.” Within a 1-hour period I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, my best friend and my barber. 33 years later, those three people are still in those roles and they are still sharing my burdens. When I met them, I sensed my long streak of bad luck finally coming to an end.

Marriage, among other things is the art of sharing burdens and my wife has been sharing mine for over 30 years. Some burdens are real and some are the result of the fact that men don’t handle burdens as well as women; men define things as burdens that women accept as life. The difference in the amount of weight we carry doesn’t seem to matter to her; from paper cuts (ooh I hate those) to career challenges, she’s been there to help shoulder all of them. The rest of the verse that is posted at the top is the real point of the song for me, the part I wish I could sing as well as Phoebe Snow:

Yes I do believe, if I hadn’t met you
I might still be sinking fast
I’ve had a long streak of bad luck
But I’m praying it’s gone at last

Phoebe Snow died on April 26th in 2011 – R.I.P. Phoebe. By the way, here’s the studio version of “Gone At Last” – give a listen, that’s my favorite way to hear that song and I think it might lift your spirits.

32 thoughts on “Gone at Last – Gone Forever

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  1. Marriage, among other things is the art of sharing burdens — this stuck out for me for some reason. Maybe cos me and my better half have been doing a fair bit of sharing recently?

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  2. I think what you’ve written about marriage is perfect, and should probably be carved into stone or tagged on city walls. So much so, that I have copied your words, and will paste them to share your quote with others.
    The only thing I ever love(d) about church is the singing. I hum and sing hymns quite often during chores, but I’ve given up everything else about church ;)

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    1. Thank you, that’s quite an honor. I wasn’t trying to drive people into the pews, just recalling some fond memories. As I hinted, we bounced around from church to church. If I end up solidly in support of a church, it will be one where they sing.

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  3. I thought I recognized that verse at the beginning! Long-time Paul Simon fan here. Nice post, Dan — I really enjoyed it, especially since I like to harmonize in the Lord’s house myself from time to time!

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    1. Thanks Paul. I forget how long Paul Simon has been making music. I wanted to use the crummy live version (poor video) to show Phoebe Snow, but it’s really hard to beat the studio version of that song. I don’t know how long they worked on it, but they got it right, I sing along with this in the car, which is probably the only place I should sing.

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  4. Good thoughts about marriage and women being more accepting of hardship (yeah!). I grew up Catholic and we sang a lot in my church. It was my favorite part of mass, actually.
    Whenever I go back to visit my family I go to church with them. The last time was sad since it was my dad’s funeral. But the songs my mom picked were his favorites. And the lyrics were so moving and full of life and hope and the people who sang so skilled that I cried and smiled at the same time. Guess this is what good singing does, right?

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    1. I guess I have to chalk up another good thing about France. Every RC church I’ve been in here is one-and-done (verse) for each hymn. Good singing does make you feel better and picking the right hymn for a funeral mass is a most important responsibility. My wife always teases me about paper cuts and they way guys handle (or don’t) little bits of pain. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

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  5. I like the line “…men define things as burdens that women accept as life.” I’d switch it a little to say “…some people define things as burdens that other people accept as life.” I’ve been working hard to be one the latter for a long time now. When I’m worrying, I know I’m not doing it right yet.

    M.

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    1. Maybe I should have said that “I don’t handle burdens as well as she does” but looking back, most all of the women in my life have been stronger when it comes to dealing with the normal burdens of life. I’d like to think that you’re right, and that we can change the line to read the way you suggest. I’ll work on that. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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  6. Oh, Dan, what phenomenal prose you write! Your wife, your friend and your barber sound like the perfect people to have lunch with as well as share a life with. You are a lucky man! I’d guess your enthusiasm for a song outshines your lack of musical talent. Now I have a new song to add to my playlist, too!

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  7. Paul Simon of The Sound of Silence? I love that song. I first heard it in The Watchmen movie at a burial scene. You have remind me of how we sang when we were little. I was born in a staunch Seventh-Day Adventist family, and, man, wasn’t that some serious singing? Although when I sing I croak worse than a bullfrog, I tried my best. I just never got the voice modulation thing. I strain until I can’t breathe. But it was compulsory all the way to high school.
    I haven’t reached that state where you say something so fine about marriage, but I must say you’ve given me another way of looking at it. My generation, by the time we were mature enough to perceive the world on our own, everything seemed to be falling apart. The society, religion, families. It seemed people would rather run away from your burdens than help you share them. Then the questioning of the orthodoxy? Why this, why that? Why everything? Why marry and raise more politicians? Why be a man when you can be a woman (and vice versa)? Why anything at all? Well, to be honest, I have few things to admire in the world today. But thanks, Dan, for that insight. I have a novel way of viewing marriage.

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    1. The same Paul Simon, but with Phoebe Snow instead of Art Garfunkel. I was less of a fan of Simon & Garfunkel as I was of Paul Simon’s solo music. I like how he explored different types of music and I was amazed at how many types he managed to handle very well.

      Marriage, church, music, they all go through phases but I try to carry the good parts forward. I was raised to tackle burdens head-on, and having a helpful partner has been very nice.

      Thanks for reading and sharing a comment Peter.

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  8. Great memories Dan. I have never heard that song as I recall but will give it a listen later on. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Although I am no longer religious specific I was born and raised Southern Baptist with a sharp turn to United Methodist when our church went through some major changes. How well I remember choir practice as a young teen and the Christmas services. But it was Vacation Bible School that we lived for. Relationships really do need to be forged not with partners of equal and perfectly balanced ideas, emotional abilities and needs. I really do feel we are meant to compliment one another, grow together and fall a little bit more “in love” with each day and every challenge overcome together.

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    1. Vacation Bible School was always a special part of summer. I agree, we are meant to complement one another (that’s a great way to put it). I think you will like that song. It’s one of those songs I can keep backing up and listening to again. Thanks for the comment Cheryl.

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  9. Oh and the hymns. My Mom was an alto and always desired for “choir service”. I still know all the words to the old favorites. In fact, a distant relative of my Mother actually wrote Death Is Only A Dream. Rather synchronistic considering how I feel about life and Death. 😄

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  10. I like churches that mix up the music styles and enjoy when I hear, “Morning has Broken.” When I hear the old style I smile, when I hear the Cat Stevens style, I rejoice. Paul Simon is a true musician and I need to listen to this again, sometime soon and not so late at night. Not all cylinders are firing now. Lol. This song, “Gone at Last,” would be awesome to hear in church. “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters” would also be a nice song to sing in church.
    So glad your bad luck left 33 or more years ago, Dan. I don’t have bad luck, never felt sorry for myself but cherish each moment I am given here on Earth. When I leave, I will hug my Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and others so hard. By then, I hope to be 96 like my dear Aunt Marie. -♡-

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    1. Thanks Robin. My bad luck, as is often the case, was the result of bad decisions I made. But, it is true that about 33 years ago, someone unexpected came along to share my burdens. That has made all the difference. What I love about this song, is that it takes us from that weary, feeling sorry for ourselves spot to the point where the bad “luck” is gone at last.

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