Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.
– Mother Teresa, Catholic nun, saint and missionary
While Mother Theresa was most likely talking about issues that are slightly more concrete and far more serious than a broken heart, this wisdom holds true for relationships as well. If we don’t feel wanted and appreciated at home with our significant other, we begin to drift. And the longer we drift, the more desperate we become. It’s not too bad at first. People have a tendency to hang on to every kind word or gesture. We all want to fool ourselves into thinking that everything is fine even when we know it’s not. We manage to bounce back day after day, year after year. However, as time goes by and we find ourselves spending more time bouncing back than we actually do being happy, we will slowly but surely start admitting defeat. This is usually only after we’ve lost all hope. Mind you, no matter how long you manage to put this moment off, if you are unhappy in your relationship, it’ll find you. And when it does, songs such as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” will strike a chord within you.
When the definitive version of this track came out in 1978, Neil Diamond was already a superstar, selling out such venues as Winter Garden Theater in New York City twenty nights in a row. His success had reached amazing heights with hits like “Sweet Caroline,” “Songs Sung Blue” and “Crackling Rose.” When “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” became his third #1 hit, it was becoming clear to everyone that Neil Diamond had come to stay. While many more hits followed, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” ended up becoming the biggest hit of Neil’s career. However, the reason I am writing about the track has nothing to do with the amount of copies sold. You see, unlike other Neil Diamond radio smashes, this one has a rather intriguing and unexpected story behind it.
To begin with, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was not intended for a Neil Diamond album at all. Diamond co-wrote the track with Alan and Marilyn Bergman for a daily TV sitcom called All That Glitters – the song was intended to be the sitcom’s theme song. However, once the show’s concept was changed, the tune was deemed inappropriate. Says Diamond of the original twist of the show:
The roles of men and women were reversed. The men stayed home and took care of the babies, the women went off to work. When I was told about it by the producer, I proposed doing a torch song, for a man. And they’re usually sung by a woman: you hurt me and you didn’t do this and you broke my heart. So that’s why a man is singing “you don’t bring me flowers.” But they turned the song down and the series didn’t make it anyway – it did only a few episodes.
Diamond, who had grown rather fond of the track, reworked it from its original 45 seconds to nearly three and a half minutes and included it as a solo performance on his 1977 I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight album. Impressed by the tune, Barbara Streisand, who felt it would suit her range perfectly, recorded her own version and released it on her Songbird album in early 1978. Since both versions used the same backing track, radio stations across the country began to splice unofficial duets together. These duets became so successful that the two performers felt they should come together for an official duet and it’s this version of the song that we are featuring on Music To Celebrate Life this week.
Inasmuch as ballad duets go, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” is in my opinion one of the best. Whether you like the track or not will ultimately depend on your taste in music but the strength of this particular cut is that it’s timeless. It’s not tied to any trend or era. Had it come out yesterday, it would not have seemed out place and it certainly wasn’t out of place in the seventies. The string arrangement is gorgeous and obviously, the vocal performances will tug at your heartstrings. However, what gets to me each time is how spot on the lyrics are:
It used to be so natural
To talk about forever
But used-to-bes don't count anymore
They just lay on the floor 'til we sweep them away
Baby, I remember
All the things you taught me
I learned how to laugh
And I learned how to cry
Well, I learned how to love
And I learned how to lie
So you'd think I could learn
How to tell you goodbye
You don't bring me flowers anymore
Indeed, there aren’t many things in life that are as excruciatingly painful as falling out of love. In fact, it’s awful. Little by little, you just drift further and further away from someone you once loved and there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop it. In case you are reading this and you’re wondering whether you are falling out of love with your spouse, you are not. Trust me, when you are falling out of love, you do not have to ask that question, you just know. This is when your partner becomes a source of daily pain rather than happiness. At this point, it really is just a matter of time before things fall apart. I believe the above lyrics describe the feeling very well. At that point, it’s all about “learning how to say goodbye.”
Of course, this difficulty of learning to let go isn’t just true for doomed relationships. It’s true for everything in life. I once knew a guy whose life-long dream it had been to own his own restaurant. Such was his resolve that he even quit his rather well-paying job to do it. Everybody he knew, including me, tried to talk him out of it. We told him it was a bad idea. He didn’t listen and took out a huge loan. Once the restaurant started failing, he took out another loan. His friends once again advised him against it but at the end of the day, he wanted the restaurant to succeed so badly that he became blind to the ominous writing on the wall. One loan swiftly followed another, until his debt reached a million euros. Sadly, he didn’t stop until he ran his business and his finances to the ground. Similarly, when it comes to love, we run ourselves to the ground until our minds and bodies give out and we are forced to face the inevitable: this does not work.
The lesson in all this? Well, if you are in the process of falling out love or your business has basically already failed; don’t fight the inevitable, move on. Marilyn Monroe once said:
Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
She was right.
Check out this performance of the song from the 1980 Grammys:
Track Sponsor Of The Month: Effigy by The Impersonators
“Effigy” describes that moment in all our lives, when we realize that we‘ve grown tired of protecting our ego, that moment when we are done worrying about how we appear to others. Rather than wanting to be cool or important, we want to be happy and discover our true identity. And the best way to achieve this is to kill our ego.
You can learn more about Neil Diamond here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.