He was dead (1966) before I had read Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me or was familiar with his music directly (I knew it through the recordings of others), so there has always been a bit of nostalgia for lost possibility in my negotiation of his art.
And I was feeling nostalgic, the other day, yearning for a bit of belief, of hope for a remolded vision of an idealized future--and for people who wouldn't accept what they were told, but who wanted to build a world for themselves, along their own lines. I was missing Farina's own peculiar blend of nostalgia and cynicism, one of a type that lay at the bottom of the mindset that led to the failed "revolution" of the 1960s.
Perhaps Farina's best-known song is "Pack Up Your Sorrows," made famous by Judy Collins. The chorus goes like this:
But if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,
And give them all to me,
You would lose them,
I know how to use them,
Give them all to me.
Sorrow and pain have purpose, in the right hands. In Farina's, they could lead to art and a rejection of the emotionless America he saw building around him:
So, cut your hair,
And never stare
At people who ain't aware
That every morning
They wake up dead.
That's from "Sell-Out Agitation Waltz," a song that speaks to me even more today than it did when I was a part of the "counterculture" of the 1960s. It goes on:
You'll wear a tie
And hope to die
If any more you try to fly
From people with nothing to say.
That's what happened to my generation, attempt at rebellion and all. And we seemed to have squashed all the spark out of our children, scared them into thinking that the world we offer is the only one possible.
My favorite Farina song is "Reflections on a Crystal Wind," a lament for lost love and the inability to commit. It ends like this:
If there's an end to all our dreaming,
Perhaps I'll go while you're still standing
Beside your door,
And I'll remember
Your hands encircling
A bowl of moonstones,
A lamp of childhood,
A robe of roses,
Because your sorrows were still unborn.
Perhaps we did pack them up and give Farina our sorrows, for emotion, really deep and caring emotion, along with compassion and a deep willingness to try to understand, have dropped from our cultural baggage.
Though I can still cry for our missing possibilities.