Leon Russell died last Saturday in his home in Nashville. This is starting out like Leonard Cohen’s Catch. We’ve lost two great musical poets in less than a week. Leon felt that “A Song for You,” quoted above, was his best, and I agree. Honestly, I think it’s one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written — right up there with “God Only Knows” by Brian Wilson — and when you place it in the context of his own life being over, it takes on deep human significance.
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together.
When were we together, Leon? Was it when I was driving alone in my car and you were playing this song for me? Was it when we were together in one of your concerts when it suddenly seemed like it was just you and me alone in the room? Were we together when a Muzak version of this song played in the elevator and I filled in the words in my head? Or was it when I lay on my back on the floor at two in the morning with my head between stereo speakers turned in toward each ear (did you ever do that)? Is that when we were together, and you were playing your song for me — not for thousands, even millions, but just for me? Such is the power of music to connect — to bring together common feelings and experiences into a shared moment, because we are all human and moved by the same emotions.
When Brian Wilson sings about a private place he can go to in his room and feel safe, who hasn’t felt that? When the Beatles want to do nothing but simply hold someone’s hand, isn’t that enough for all of us to feel? And when Larry Norman sang about the angst of being left behind, didn’t we all feel that? And isn’t that why music fueled the last great spiritual revolution in this country because it captured, in the creative new vernacular of our young lives, the feelings of being loved, forgiven, saved, washed clean, and looking forward to a new life and eternity beyond that?
Popular music is important. It captures the common elements of our humanity and links us together. It lets us know that we are not alone. Someone else has felt the same way we feel and captured it for us in a three-minute song — so much so that we can hear that song again, years later, and feel the same thing all over again, as if time stood still.
So Leon, thank you for sharing your life with us. Thank you for capturing your feelings in your songs (feeling like you’re in a masquerade, or like you’re walking a tightrope in a relationship) because so many of them are my feelings too. And most of all, I’m so glad that even now, when your life is over, I will always remember when we were alone, and you were playing your song for me.