Song of the Day #1,159: ‘Goodbye (She Quietly Says)’ – Frank Sinatra

Song Two of my ten-day exploration of Frank Sinatra’s Watertown takes place chronologically earlier than the opening track. Here Sinatra sets the scene of the married couple’s break-up.

One of my favorite things about Watertown is how much lyricist Jake Holmes conveys about these characters in very few words. In the excellent liner notes of my Watertown CD, Holmes is interviewed about his use of subtext throughout the song cycle and touches on some of the moments I’ve always loved in these tunes.

‘Goodbye (She Quietly Says)’ distills the end of a marriage into a quiet moment in a coffee shop — a reach, a glance and a quiet goodbye. The moment is otherwise ordinary, and powerfully so. The world doesn’t stop spinning, there’s no “tempest in the tea.” It’s just a conversation over cheesecake and apple pie (or “happle pie,” as I remember by aunt singing it).

This song makes it clear that the marriage has been in trouble for awhile. He is arguing that they should “make another try” and they are described as “one still make-believing” and “one still telling lies.”

But this is clearly her move, her decision. She even pulls the old “it’s not you, it’s me” routine. Ouch.

There is no great big ending, no sunset in the sky
There is no string ensemble, and she doesn’t even cry
And just as I begin to say that we should make another try
She reaches out across the table looks at me and quietly says good-bye

There is no big explosion, no tempest in the tea
The world does not stop turning round, there’s no big tragedy
Sitting in a coffee shop with cheesecake and some apple pie
She reaches out across the table looks at me and quietly says good-bye

Good-bye, said so easily, Good-bye, said so quietly
Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye

Just two always strangers avoid each other’s eyes
One still make believing, one still telling lies
She tells me that I’m not to blame
But when I ask the reason why
She reaches out across the table looks at me and quietly says good-bye

Good-bye, said so easily. Good-bye, said so quietly
Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye

She reaches out across the table looks at me and quietly says good-bye

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5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,159: ‘Goodbye (She Quietly Says)’ – Frank Sinatra

  1. pegclifton says:

    As Dad says, this is so chilling. So beautiful too.

  2. Dana says:

    quite the heartbreaking song….

  3. Amy says:

    I remember being so struck by the lack of instrumentation in the opening lines. Somehow Sinatra singing those words a capella made the moment even more devastating.

    Wow; I haven’t heard this song in years, and my eyes are brimming with tears listening to it right now. Such a powerful song. Maybe this Jake Holmes dude should be one of my top ten songwriters based on my ridiculous criteria for that list ;)

    I do find myself feeling more empathy for Elizabeth than I remember feeling when I listened to these lyrics as a girl. As the song comes to an end, I’m waiting for the first notes in the song that follows to begin.
    This is such an album!!! One song begs to lead into the next. What’s going to happen next?!

  4. I’ve been so moved by this album I’ve created a website to study it. Take a look at http://www.watertownology.com

  5. Clay says:

    Great site!

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