Morning Music: Hello in There

John Price - Hello in ThereAfter all these years, John Prine’s song “Hello in There” still gives me chills. In fact, it can bring me to tears if I’m feeling a little bit down. It was off his first album, John Prine, which is still my favorite of his albums, although I’ll admit that maybe it isn’t his best album. It’s hard to say. Every song is great. He does have a tendency to break momentum between chorus and verse. But it is a smaller problem with “Hello in There.”

The issue of old people being forgotten in our society is an important one. It is the result of our economic problems — the devaluation of work and expertise. I’ve seen it a lot in high tech and I have to admit to being very pleased to be out of it. If you look at old coders — people who cut their teeth of COBOL and FORTRAN — they know everything. Unlike the 20-somethings who can code the most recent fad programming language for little money, the old ones understand the whole context. They understand that it still all comes down to putting bits on silicon and pushing them through a CPU.

But who cares?! I’m the youngest person I know whose coded assembly language. In the modern world, we create systems so we don’t need people who understand the big picture. We need people who are “human resources” so that one “human resource” can be plugged into where another “human resource” used to be. And in that world, we sure don’t care about old people. It isn’t that we are cruel. We don’t know there is anyone worthwhile to say “hello in there” to.

Of course, there is another side of this. I go out of my way to talk to old people. But sometimes, they are so starved for conversation, that they don’t know how to have a conversation — they just perform a repetitive monologue. I don’t blame them — it’s our fault. But it’s frustrating. Still, I think Prine is right:

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass them by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.”

10 thoughts on “Morning Music: Hello in There

  1. Reminds me of Elvis Costello’s Veronica, which despite its upbeat tune is about an old lady slowly fading out in a nursing home.

    Veronica sits in her favorite chair
    and she sits very quiet and still
    And they call her a name that they never get right
    and if they don’t then nobody else will
    But she used to have a carefree mind of her own,
    with a devilish look in her eye
    Saying “You can call me anything you like,
    but my name is Veronica”

    • Count on Sir Paul McCartney to make even depressing songs sound bouncy!

      If you’re not familiar with the amazing Mr. Prine, see if your library has a copy of this album or the terrific best-of collection “Great Days.” He’s a national treasure (and so is his late, great friend, Steve Goodman, who wrote “City Of New Orleans.”)

      • Speaking of City of New Orleans – I actually had never heard it (I know, I know) until after I’d heard Joe Dassin’s cover/adaptation, Salut les Amoreux. I like them both; the French version has nothing at all in common with the original except the tune, though (it’s about a couple who’ve decided to break up but are having second thoughts).

        Joe Dassin, by the way, is sort of a fascinating guy – virtually unknown in the US, but a surprisingly big deal in France and in Russia (which is why I eventually was introduced to him.) His father was the film director Jules Dassin (Never on a Sunday, among others), who was blacklisted in Hollywood and moved his family to Europe. Joe, though born in the US, became a fairly big French pop star in the 70s; he died in Tahiti in 1980.

      • Another song, arguably in “the locked-in senior citizen” genre, is Home by the Sea by Genesis. I hadn’t listened to it in years, so I hunted it down and listened again. I can’t quite decide whether it’s about kids breaking into a haunted house and being trapped by the ghosts for an eternity, or about a visit to a nursing home that just seems to last an eternity…

        Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
        Things that go to make up a life
        Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom
        Waiting for the morning light
        Scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame
        Things that go to make up a life

        Help us someone, let us out of here
        Cos we’ve been here so long undisturbed
        Dreaming of the time we were free
        So many years ago
        Before the time when we first heard
        “Welcome to the Home by the Sea”

        Sit down, sit down
        As we relive our lives in what we tell you
        Let us relive our lives in what we tell you

    • Yes, although that’s about dementia and this song is about people very much aware of their loneliness. Also, I’ve always thought that song would have been better if Paul McCartney hadn’t been in the room.

  2. …And since I seem to suffering some sort of song-posting fit, I thought I’d mention that the chord progression in Hello In There reminds me of Travelling Alone by Jason Isbell, one of my favorite recent artists. (Never heard of him until Terry Gross interviewed him; been hooked ever since. Yup, I’m a Fresh Air bandwagon fan.)

    (And… I’m just gonna break down and ask. How the heck DO you embed YouTube videos in these comments? When I view the source of existing posts/comments, I see it’s an iframe – but if I try to post that in a comment, it just gets eaten. I’m stumped, which I find embarrassing.)

    • Well… The Jason Isbell song is far more complex. But I know what you are talking about. There’s that G-Am chord progression that is really important to “Hello in There” that Isbell uses to good effect in his chorus.

      When you are in YouTube, click “Share” below the video. Then click “Embed.” Then copy the text that shows up. HOWEVER: it is always too big for comments, so I click “Show More” and change the size so that it is 350 pixels wide. This will result in something like this:

      <iframe width=”350″ height=”197″ src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

      And it will display like this:

      • I think I see what my problem has been: my HTML was good, but the URL I was using for src= was the regular link to the page; the result was no preview, no funky box where a preview ought to have been, no nothing. Somehow I’d been overlooking the embed-specific URL…
        It may be some time before the song-posting fit strikes again, but next time it does – watch out!

        • I remember when I figured out how to embed videos on blog. It was very exciting. It is simple enough once you know how, but it isn’t obvious. On most webpages, there are so many options that it is easy to miss things. And I remember something that an older physics student had told me when was just starting out, “Everything is either impossible or trivial, and the purpose of education is to move things from the former category to the latter.”

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