Measure For Measure: I Feel Your Pain

“I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger ...” Took me back a few years, hearing Rhiannon Giddens sing this haunting folk-spiritual. Sure, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, and Emmylou Harris have covered it, but the first time I heard these mournful words was when I was five, and the singer was my mom. She learned the song from a Burl Ives album by the same name and found many occasions to sing it when I was a child. Regrettably, you’ll have to take my word for it when I say she sang like an angel. Maybe nostalgia plays a role in your reaction, too. But surely there’s more to it than that. Fashions come and go in popular music, but as one generation fades and another takes their place, only some songs live on. This is one of them. So let’s look a little deeper. Take that first line, which quickly establishes a viewpoint character and a sorrowful state of affairs, “traveling through this world of woe.” And then, something happens. In the midst of all that bleakness, a flower of faith blooms: “And there ain’t no sickness, no toil, no danger/ in that fair land to which I go.” Powerful. But…

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