Without a Hurt the Heart is Hollow

Sometimes I can get fixated on a song, often it’s a song from a musical.

The song rings around in my head and I generally obsess a bit over it. Then it goes away or, maybe not completely away, it just sort of retreats to a less obtrusive neural channel.

In the past, this has lead me to spend time which such delightful shows as ‘South Pacific’, ‘Cabaret’, ‘The Music Man’ and even ‘Chicago’.

At the moment, there is a very nice song which I cannot get out of my head.

The way a song like this manifests itself is a little odd. One minute I will care nothing for the song, the next I will seem to know every word in the lyric, never to forget it again.

Anyway, this month’s song is from the longest running musical of all time (at 42 consecutive years, it is a record unlikely ever to be broken). The show is called ‘The Fantasticks’.

The song has been massacred and mangled down through the years. I think what put me on to it was coming across Jerry Orbach singing it on YouTube in a White House concert from some time ago.

Jerry played the √Čl Gallo’ part originally, it seems. He might be a familiar face from the TV show ‘Law and Order’. He died a few years ago.

He also played Lumiere - the candelabra in Disney’s movie ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Anyway, his rendition of this song, which has seen so many mawkish and exploitative versions, was so ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ that it fascinated me.

He just let the engaging tune and the tightly-composed lyric do its good work, knowing full well that there is enough sentiment in there to go around - without Gladys Knight or someone else sighing and moaning all over it.

The song is more famous than the show it comes from. It’s called ‘Try to Remember’.

I have known the song for the longest time but I think what has now made it a favourite is an understanding of where it fits within the show. This helps to give a little context to the lyric which was missing before.

For me, there was always a mystery attached to the repeated word ‘follow’. What did it mean?

Knowing now that the song opens the show and that the show is performed with a minimal set and some quite inventive staging tricks, I can see that the character is exhorting to audience to remember things from their own lives to help them to engage emotionally with the play. As the song says, if they remember then they should ‘follow’ (what is happening in the play).

Phrases like ‘tender and callow fellow’ or ‘without a hurt the heart is hollow’ are just great, aren’t they?

Here’s the lyric, reproduced without permission (for educational purposes only) but with genuine respect:

Try to Remember (Words by Tom Jones and Music by Harvey Schmidt)

Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
that dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
that love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Deep in December it's nice to remember
although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
the fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow

Good, eh?

And here's a clip of Jerry doing it.

Very nicely, I think.


Cleveland Real Estate said...

I didn't know he could sing... When I see him, I think of Dirty Dancing...

I'm still stuck on poor Gladys sighing and moaning... ha!

Nice lyrics. I'm suddenly calm or something... Strange.

Laura Brown said...

I had a song stuck in my mind yesterday and today I can't even remember what it was. I spent the weekend babysitting and those little girls are always singing, could have been just about anything.

Anonymous said...

I recognize the face from Law and Order. I did not know that Jerry Orbach had died or that he was in fact a singer. This just shows how old some of the TV shows are that we see here in South Africa. Beautiful song and very well sung. Thanks.

Dominic Rivron said...

Funny how songs get stuck in the head. Mine is currently stuck with a David Bowie song:

Andy Warhol looks a scream,
hang him on my wall, etc.,

I never gave much thought to it until a friend suggested we play it the other day. Learning it was a real eye-opener.

I digress, but learning things by rote really helps you get inside them.

Rachel Fox said...

I've never heard of this musicial? How is that possible? Recognise the song though...not quite up there with Earth, Wind and Fire's September but touching nonetheless...

Dave King said...

The song is great. I do agree that it has often been murdered. I didn't know it came from that show. To me it works very well as poetry as well as song. I enjoyed the post greatly.

Jim Murdoch said...

This shouldn't work as a poem and yet I have to agree with Dave that it does. The reason I think it that we both bring the association of the song with us and hence attribute more to it as a poem than it perhaps deserves. It always amazes me how some of the finest songs we know become next to nothing on a page when severed from their musical accompaniment.

Unknown said...

Thanks Ken. I did enjoy that.

Anonymous said...

I had hoped it was another Ken Armstrong when I got the notice. Sadly, it was not. I've been asked by The International Federation of Men (Local #17393) to come and collect your man card ... I hope to one day return it at such a time when you can show yourself worthy of holding one. I'm not going to sugarcoat this ... show tunes are a pretty major infraction and wrestling a grizzly bare-handed may be required. Please ... don't kill the messenger. (Although that may actually help your case.)

Jena Isle said...

Hi Ken,

You know that song? You're not that old are you? lol. It's a mellow, nostalgic song , good when you're relaxing and trying to get some sleep.

Thanks for sharing Ken. and yes, Danny boy, was my mother's favorite piece whenever she was asked to sing then. I grew up with melody of Danny boy lulling me to sleep. And the Kathleen song, do you know that one? "I'll take you home again Kathleen. Across the ocean wide and wild..to where your heart has ever been...."

These are nostalgic and poignant songs.

Happy blogging.

tashabud said...

Such a wonderful rhyming song. I've been listening to some really old country western songs at work from a friend's blog music playlist that when I turn the music off, they're still playing in my head. Can't remember the words; just the melodies.


Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Celilia: I really agree that this song has a calming effect. I found that I knew the words off-by-heart after only a couple of listens (it's one of my few genuine skills) and I often run through them in my head as a sort of Mantra.

Jees... Canucklehead will kill me if he comes back and read this. :)

Laura: Try to Remember... :)

Hi Lyndi: It seems he sang quite a lot - he had quite the Broadway career. I'm glad you liked it, I do too.

Hi Dominic: I had to Google that lyric:

"He'll think about paint
and he'll think about glue
What a jolly boring thing to do"

Excellent. If you Youtube yourselves doing it, do let me know.

Rachel :Earth Wind and Fire... tut I'm disappointed in you!

KIDDING (fished in) :)

Thanks Dave, 'interesting that you see it working as a poem too. I thought that was wasn't comfortable sticking my neck out so soon again. :)

Hi Jim: I think the lyric is very clever and I find it quite apt. I'm really glad you saw something in it. Your opinion counts for quite a bit around here but ssshhhh, don't tell anyone.

Jakill: Thanks yourself. I thought this post would be a bit-of-a-dud. I'm glad it brought some of the enjoyment I felt.

Canucklehead - Linc - This needed saying. I'm sorry, I need to sort myself out. I'm going to drink more beer and spit and fart a little more. I can stop Showtunes, I know I can. Bring that bear around, I'll do what I can with him.

Oh Jena: you know so many Irish songs, it's quite amazing. I do know 'I will take you home again Kathleen'... sigh, I do...

Hank Williams, Tasha, you can't beat him!

tashabud said...

Hank Williams, definitely. Unfortunately the list doesn't have any of Hank Williams.

You might like to check out the list. Here's the link to the post that contains the playlist.


They're all easy listening.


Susan at Stony River said...


I've always loved the songs that nobody will admit to liking, but somehow everyone knows the words anyhow. A secret indulgence, often.

This is a wonderful sweet song, but I've never seen it in context on stage: thank you for explaining that!

hope said...

I grew up with the Ed Ames version. There's a clip on YouTube of his as well, but from a concert in his later years. He shared that when he did that show, it was off Broadway...but that song was his first hit single.

My parents knew him as one of the Ames Brothers....I knew him as the Indian "Mingo" on the t.v. series "Daniel Boone". Then again, some folks remember him for a visit on Johnny Carson where he demonstrated his ax throwing ability...and nailed the male silhoutte in a very delicate place. :)

Thanks Ken...I really do love that song. There's nothing wrong with a warm, fuzzy feeling from time to time... and if I have to get a song stuck in my head, that's a good one.

Just please tell me ABBA hasn't done a version. [Sorry Matt]. :)

Babs (Beetle) said...

I had a recording of that song, many years ago, sung by Nana Mouskouri. I must admit that it's a song best sung with little accompaniment.

Anonymous said...

That's the spirit ol' chap. Expect me a Pooh around 7:30PM tomorrow - that should give you some time to fill up with liquid courage. We can get through this ...

Ken Armstrong said...

Cool Tasha, I'm just listening to 'City of New Orleans' now. Hmmmmm. :)

Hi Susan, part of my challenge to myself is to be more honest in my writing - I could always throw a plot, a twist and a gag or two together but it was a bit mechanical. The blog is my loosening-up for some honest writing - I try to 'admit' to things here without it becoming a confessional. Liking tunes you shouldn't is part of the deal. :)

Hi Hope, lovely comment, thanks. I used to love Daniel Boone when I was a nipper (From memory:) "From the coon-skin cap on the top of his head to the heel of his rawhide shoe, the rippin'est roarin'est fightin'est man the frontier ever knew" :)

Hey Babs, I heard the Nana Mouskouri version in researcing other versions. It's cute but not a patch on this one methinks. :)

Hi again Linc! No, no I wasn't talking showtunes again... I was talking... em... Daniel Boone! That's right. Where's that 'bar' (sic) No not 'sic em' oh jeez.

tashabud said...

That's cool that you actually went to check out Eric's music playlist. So, do you like those kinds of music, too? If you do, I'm impressed with the range of music you listen to.


Ken Armstrong said...

Hi again Tash, no worries, I enjoyed it. I recommend a listen.

I do listen to a quite ridiculous range of music - sublime to the ridiculous really. My favorite for this week has just been released in this country. Try it on youtube if you have a few minutes:

'Use Sombody'

Fiendish put me on to it!

tashabud said...

Okay, Ken, I went and checked out that song. I like the guy's gravel, pleading, melancholic voice. I'm not too sure exactly what he meant when he said "want to use somebody". Does the phrase have a deeper or hidden meaning than a literal meaning as in him wanting to use somebody for his sexual desires only? The song is a riddle to me. However, I still like it, I just don't get its meaning entirely.

And oh, I'm not familiar with King Leon group. This is my first time to hear of them.


Ken Armstrong said...

Yeah, I like his gravelly voice too. I like gravelly voices generally. :)

I thinks it's rather a clever double meaning. (I could be wrong). 'Use' works in the sexual context but it also works on a more emotional level. You know the expression, "I could sure use a break right now" or "I could use a drink". It makes the word 'use' work a little more like the word 'need'. So it cuts both ways, I think. Thanks for giving it a spin. :)

tashabud said...

I believe you're on the right track, Ken, on the word's double meaning. Thanks for illuminating me on that one.

Good night,

Anonymous said...


I have heard much about the Fantasticks but never seen it...maybe someday it will come to local theatre in New Jersey...
My mom used to sing that song when I was a little girl...I think she actually had the "record" -- on 78rpm.

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Nyl said...

When I listen to music, I go for the lyrics more than the artist. There are even songs whose singers I am not actually familiar with.

nice lyrics you have here. Music brings life to human existence, i believe.

Tom said...

I came across this today and the video no longer available. Here is a current video


Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Tom. :)

Unknown said...

We were taught this song in a middle school music class a LONG time ago. I thought it was pretty back then, but at that age had little appreciation of its meaning. I looked it up on a whim the other day an came across the Jerry Orbach video. It holds a whole new meaning now. Great song! Perfect performance by Mr. Orbach. Thank you for the post.