Although it’s routinely pilloried as one of the worst singles of all time, Bobby Goldsboro‘s #1 song from 1968 – “Honey” – has always given me the creeps since childhood. The five weeks it spent in the top chart position were nestled between the dual assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, a vulnerable time indeed for America, and one during which you can certainly imagine the nation turning to a song about (possibly) suicide and (definitely) grief. But it was an infamous performance on a comedy show that made it temporary nightmare fodder for me.
At face value, the song’s lyrics about a husband mourning the passing of his wife do not portray him in a very sympathetic light; he laughs at her foolishness, accidents and stupidity when he probably should have been paying closer attention to a deeper problem. Some have conjectured the song’s subject was suffering a terminal disease (this was two years before Eric Segal‘s “Love Story” would become a best-seller) but in later years I’d come to picture Honey taking her own life. I prefer to interpret it thus for two reasons: 1) The narrator implies he wants to join her in death but is too cowardly to do so (I’d love to be with you / if only I could), and 2) the song returns to the beginning at the close, as the husband is trapped in an endless cycle of grief. Yes, it’s schlocky in retrospect, but at the time it was chilling. I see Honey as a fragile, willowy flower child, a free spirit easily crushed; think Mia Farrow.
Cut to a random Sunday night in the Senski household, where “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was a weekend staple. The edgy variety show must have decided that the song was ripe for taking down a few pegs, and decided to invite Goldsboro to sing it on air. But there was a catch; the producers decided to stage a series of tableaux, each depicting a scene from the lyrics (a smashed car, a planted twig, etc) with Goldsboro wandering around the set. The most vivid memory for me was a box of tissues – one partially removed from the slot – and used ones littering the floor, as though a ghost had been seated at the kitchen table, weeping. Now, keep in mind that I was not quite five and hadn’t truly grasped the concept of suicide. My mind considered three possibilities, all very unsettling:
1) The man had left his house exactly as it was the day she died or disappeared, however long ago this may have been;
2) Honey had been mysteriously taken away by the song’s “angels” for reasons I did not know, or;
3) Honey was still there as a ghost haunting the house.
Goldsboro has said in later interviews that the show received a tremendous amount of mail, most of it negative, for trying to put a humorous spin on a song about tragedy. I didn’t think it funny at all, and though I have not viewed this in almost 45 years, I can still picture those Kleenexes as though grasped by a phantom hand. I’d love for someone to unearth a video of this musical staging, or learn if anyone else saw this and experienced a severe case of gooseflesh.