Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes

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Bono (of U2) recorded the Jimmie Rodgers song “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes” for a Jimmie Rodgers tribute albumthat was put out on Egyptian Records in 1996. If you happen to look for it on YouTube currently, you’ll see multiple instances where it’s been uploaded, but most of the people uploading and commenting on it seem to be under the impression that the song is actually a Bono or U2 original.

You can listen to the embedded version above (though you might want to avoid looking at the slideshow of images associated with it by this particular uploader). A lot of the YouTubers believe it’s one of Bono’s greatest songs, or even the greatest. It’s not that surprising they assume it’s an original, because Bono’s rendition is certainly far away from any blue yodeling connotations; his characteristically big, breathy vocal floats atop a bed of piano and rising strings. However, that the version works very well is beyond question. In fact, I think it’s total dynamite, and likely the most striking contribution to that album (which is itself very good).

Considering the song a little more closely: it is actually co-written by Jimmie Rodgers with one Waldo O’Neal. Who was Waldo O’Neal? Turns out he was a West Texas farm boy. The book Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler tells his story:

Like many others in that era, O’Neal had been born into a rich heritage of rural music. As a small boy he’d watched the silent westerns of William S. Hart and Hoot Gibson, and later had fallen sway to the string bands and yodeling crooners that emanated from primitive radio speakers and scratchy phonograph records. Like many others also, his idol was Jimmie Rodgers.

O’Neal had begun scribbling down poems and song lyrics while still in his teens. “I ordered a cheap guitar from Montgomery Ward,” he remembered years later, “and sang my songs to family and friends, usually fitting them to some familiar cowboy tune.” In 1928 he composed a mournful dirge about a dying tramp, in the vein of hundreds of similar hobo songs. His sister was much impressed by the song, which he called “Hobo Bill’s Last Ride,” and she suggested that he send it to Jimmie Rodgers.

Although having little hope that the great Jimmie Rodgers would actually take notice of him, Waldo did indeed write it out, put it in an envelope and send it, “in care of the Victor Talking Machine Company.” Months later, a check and contract arrived in the mail. Waldo O’Neal went on to send Jimmie Rodgers material for several more songs that he used, including “Pistol Packin’ Papa” and “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes.”

Another reason I think people might find it easy to believe the work is actually that of Bono is the emotional sweep and resonance of the lyric, and it’s quasi-religious quality.

My heart is longing for you love,
I cared for you more then you knew
Though you have broken each promise,
And yesterday’s dreams are untrue

Alone I’ll be yearning tomorrow,
When sunshine brings memories of you
My sunshine will turn into sorrow,
As I dream of the love we once knew

Why should I always be lonesome,
When sunny and blue are the skies?
While shadows and loneliness linger,
I’m dreaming with tears in my eyes

Why did you promise me sweetheart,
Never to leave me alone?
Yesterday’s sunshine is faded,
Your love wasn’t true like my own

I think Bono would in fact be extremely proud if he could have written a lyric like that, so apparently without affect yet so filled with emotion, and so timeless.

And it’s touching, I’d suggest, that young Waldo O’Neal’s words and this simple tune have reached across a century and struck chords with the YouTube generation. (I can’t help wondering what Jimmie Rodgers and the publisher paid him for it.)