The last time I heard “You Are My Sunshine,” I was knee deep in a YouTube rabbit hole searching for anything to distract the screaming infant on the floor in front of me.
My Google searches for “lullaby” or “nursery rhyme” or “Cocomelon” sucked me into a circle of hell-filled with wide-eyed, smiling, CGI babies and slow, mind-numbing melodies that all started to sound the same after the eighth hour on repeat. “You Are My Sunshine” was in that category.
When I joined a record-breaking crowd streaming Zach’s American Heartbreak on Friday, Track #12 had me confused.
“’You Are My Sunshine,’” Zach? Are you trying to make the Cocomelon Soundtrack?” I thought as I sipped my coffee at a stoplight Friday morning.
I loved singing sad, country lullabies to my babies. I wouldn’t settle for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” or “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” or any other rote lullaby that everyone knew.
I wanted my babies’ impressionable, smooth brains to hear Jones and Straitand Haggard. They should know from Day One what kind of broken, twisted world they were entering, so who better to teach them than the heartbroken degenerates of country music?
But in my car on Friday, Zach Bryan had me listening to the words of that ubiquitous song. And I realized that I, like many others who learned it as a child, only knew the chorus:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine You make me happy when skies are gray You’ll never know dear how much I love you So please don’t take my sunshine away…”
For the first time ever, I listened further into the soul-crushing verses that made this song stick over the years, from Jimmie Davis’ original recording, to Gene Autry’s, Johnny Cash’s, Ray Charles’, or hundreds of other artists’ versions.
“You Are My Sunshine” was perhaps the saddest, most beloved, and most enduring country lullaby of all time, and I just didn’t know it. It took Zach Bryan’s voice to finally tell me why that sunshine might be taken away:
“The other night, dear, as I lay sleepin’ I dreamt I held you in my tired arms When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken So I bowed my head and I cried…”
“I’ve always loved you, made you happy And nothin’ else could come between But now you’ve left me to love another And you shattered all my dreams…”
They say you learn something new every day. And on Friday, I learned that “You Are My Sunshine” is a sad country song. And those are my favorites.
So when I sing to my kids from now on, “You Are My Sunshine” is back in the rotation.