Song 117: Richard and Linda Thompson, “Withered and Died” (1974)

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Is there a sadder song in existence than “Withered and Died”? It’s just one big fucking bummer from beginning to end. Even the one line that refers to happiness, “once I was bending the tops of the trees,” is sad, because as beautiful as that image is, you know “once” has to be followed up with “then.” That verse that ends with “he’s gone with the rest, my dreams have withered and died.” Ugh.

But man, this song is gorgeous. Richard Thompson has a knack for writing songs that sound traditional (another is “Dimming of the Day”), making intimate stories sound like universally known hymns. In some ways, the concept behind “Withered and Died,” with its timeless story of someone being screwed over by someone they love, is universally known, especially in the world of pop music.

Linda Thompson–at the time, Richard’s wife–sells this song by underselling it. She sounds despondent but not upset, as if the shock of heartbreak has worn off (or has just begun). How this song can really only have (by design) that one story, that one character with a limited point of view, and succeed, I don’t understand. But it works.

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