Somebody Come and Play

Sometimes, the saddest songs are children’s songs.  I’m just rediscovering that fact.

When my wife is at home with my oldest son Gabriel, she sometimes plays a Sesame Street Pandora channel that she created for him.  I admit, modern children’s songs can be just as grating for me as any other parent, but classic Sesame Street songs are in a league of their own.  I give credit to Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss primarily, because they wrote such complex compositions that explored the depth of childhood emotions.

The thing that I think we forget as adults, which I’ve been rediscovering as my children get older, is that childhood emotions are very real.  Sure, from our perspectives, the things that children get upset about are quite small and petty, but that’s just the “view from above.”  When my son cries when I leave in the morning, it’s because he needs my presence in order to feel loved and important and not alone in the world, and when I leave he really isn’t sure that I’m ever coming back.  When a child gets hungry she relies on someone to bring her food – she doesn’t know how else to get it or how to make the feeling go away.  When a little boy scrapes his knee or gets a shot, that really may be the most pain he can ever remember happening.  The world is a big, scary place for a child, and they don’t have a handle on who they are or what their place in it is.

As adults we like to wrap our emotions in layers of pretentious justifications so we can pretend that they’re somehow more profound than a child’s, but it simply isn’t so.  A child’s life can be just as difficult, sad, joyous, and painful as ours, and sometimes much more.

That’s why, when the song “Somebody Come and Play” comes on the Pandora station, I can’t help but be amazed at how Joe Raposo could tap into this concept so well.  It’s a beautiful, catchy song, but it’s also unbelievably sad.  Here are the lyrics:

Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and smile the smiles
And sing the songs
It won’t take long
Somebody come and play today

Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play my way
Somebody come and rhyme the rhymes
And laugh the laughs
It won’t take time
Somebody come and play today

Somebody come with me and see the pleasure in the wind
Somebody see the time is getting late to begin

Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and be my friend
And watch the sun ’till it rains again
Somebody come and play today

This isn’t a child who is bored one afternoon.  This is a child who, for whatever reason, feels like he doesn’t have a single friend in the world (at least, not one he can call by name).  This is a child who “sees the pleasure in the wind” – the beauty in the tiny things of the world, and simply wants to share them with another human being.  This is a child who wants to sit in the sunshine with a friend, and doesn’t care if this friend is a boy or a girl, or what color they are, or where they come from.  This is a child who hasn’t built up all the coping mechanisms and comforting worldviews that adults have to buffer their uncertainties and fears, and hasn’t learned how to manipulate, play, or attract other people.

I didn’t know Joe Raposo in life, but I know that this is a guy who knows what it’s like to be a child.

I remember when I was a kid and running around on playgrounds with the other children.  I would daydream about having some magic superpower or skill or ability that would wow all the other kids and make them my friends.  But of course, this was just to cope with my realization that I was just me.  I had to somehow make friends using only myself – and who was I?

But this song is sad, not because it gives us a glimpse of some hypothetical child out in a fictional world, and not even because it reminds us of the lonely times in all our childhoods, but because it still resonates with our present selves.  A simple, pure, deep longing to touch someone else in a more than superficial way.  Someone to watch the sun with and hold during the long rains.  We can convince ourselves that our problems are somehow more important, or bigger, or more special than that, and some of them can be.  But ultimately, when we feel something is missing in our lives, most of the time it’s someone else.

That’s why “Somebody Come and Play,” to me, is sadder than any of the ubiquitous “My Baby Left Me” songs I hear on the radio.  The subjects of the latter are primarily narcissistic musicians trying to impress everybody with their “textured sonic qualities” or “delicate vibrato.”  But the subject in this song is just a child reaching out to somebody – anybody – in a big, pretty, scary world he doesn’t understand one bit.

Lest I end on such a bitter note, let me point out the existential longing expressed in the song is not only fulfilled but completely surpassed by finding that person.  That’s why we can even tolerate songs like this.  The joy of togetherness is so worth the lonely road to get there.

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