In the past week, I’ve downloaded a guided meditation app, bought a new album I’d been looking forward to, and let several worthy podcasts pile up in my queue. And yet, the only thing I find myself listening to is “Skylark,” the 1942 standard brought to prominence by Glenn Miller. Do you ever get in these obsessive ruts—these experiences where suddenly, a song you’ve heard a hundred times speaks to you in a new, urgent way? And nothing else feels like the sound track of that moment?
According to most sources, Johnny Mercer’s melancholy lyrics were inspired by his ill-fated affair with the young Judy Garland. But Hoagy Carmichael’s wistful melody is evocative in the many instrumental versions, too. And yes, I’ve listened to plenty of those, because, as we all know, when you’re in an obsessive musical rut the only variation permitted is in renditions of the chosen song. I find I return to the 1942 Dinah Shore recording most often; she sounds genuinely sad.
Maybe it’s something about the primer-like quality of the verses—the speaker asking questions of a bird like some kind of Big Band–era William Blake—that contributes to its poignancy. Or the sneaky, slinky, key-happy bridge. Or just the fact that it’s something to listen to right now besides the constant drone of voices speculating about geopolitical uncertainties. No matter the version, the notes always rise up hopefully in the end. That’s not nothing.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.