Emery Recommends: “Dark, Dark, Dark” by Gregory Alan Isakov

In early January, my grandmother was given “days to weeks” to live.

I’d been over to visit her — she lived on the other side of the state — in December, some primal intuition nagging at me, telling me she might not have long, despite having beaten cancer and numerous deadly ailments over a number of years. Still, I wasn’t prepared to see her on her literal deathbed in the guest room of my mother’s house when I returned after the diagnosis.

The visit was hard, of course, but I kept myself steady, trying to help my parents with the difficult tasks of caring for a dying woman, finding myself engrossed in endless discussions of regret, the afterlife, and our past. Minutes melted into hours; we forgot to eat, watched for signs of breathing with shallow breaths.

It was easier, I told myself, to say goodbye to her with the hospice nurse there. I didn’t want to break down or make it obvious that I knew this was our last goodbye. So I left, aching and exhausted, preparing for the four hours or so it would take me to drive home.

I couldn’t listen to anything at first. The only music that made sense for the moment — her songs, Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves — would have annihilated me. Finally I decided on my go-to guy, Gregory Alan Isakov.

“Dark, Dark, Dark” queued up first and I finally let myself cry.

The last time I saw Gregory Alan Isakov in concert was just before Evening Machines came out, and his show was moved to due a fire at the original venue. He played at the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise, and it was perfect. The lights kept low, I bawled my way through “Dark, Dark, Dark” and the rest of the set. He told us the story of his genre name — “sad songs about space.”

Gregory kept the empty freeway and me company, and together we exhausted my tear supply. I kept returning to “Dark, Dark, Dark,” finding that it felt the most appropriate and comforting. I imagined all of us as Maria — my grandma, me, my mom, my best friend. I imagined the song I’d sing/we’d sing for the dark. When I reached my exit, I wanted to keep driving, just me and Gregory, for a while longer. But I didn’t; I exited, went back to real life, went back to waiting for my beloved grandmother to die, but those several hours on the open road with “Dark, Dark, Dark” made it easier to face the coming days.

Sometimes sad songs about space are the only appropriate ones for open roads and grief.

(Song recommendation by Emery Ross)

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