Traumafession:: Senski on Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey”

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.

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senski (@senski)
8 years ago

Aww, thanks, Unk! I had to do a bit of digging to find out when this was originally telecast. I knew it was Sunday night and CBS, and I kept wanting to attribute it to Ed Sullivan. But Ed did zero in production, and this was nothing if not the imagination of an overly-creative art department. In looking for the video I found a Goldsboro interview about the appearance. Maybe someone will find this like they found the monkey/heroin psa! 🙂

Hell, you could craft a whole movie around this (hint, hint)…

bdwilcox (@bdwilcox)
8 years ago

The most terrifying thing about this traumafession is his purple leisure suit in that screencap. I have a feeling that will be the attire of one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

One old song that gives me a general feeling of unease is ‘Summer Breeze’ by Seals and Croft from 1972. The worst part is I don’t know why; it just leaves me with a terrible feeling of apprehension and angst.

And let’s not even talk about the suicide inducing ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ by Gilbert O’Sullivan

Apocalypsejunkie (@apocalypsejunkie)
8 years ago

“She ran calling, Wiiiiildddfire”….ugh. Just ugh.

Isn’t “Shannon” about the family dog dying? WTF was it with the 70’s and wrist slit inducing songs?

bdwilcox (@bdwilcox)
8 years ago

It’s funny you mention that because I was wondering the exact same thing. It’s like a decade-long ‘momento mori” put to song. Another example: ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks

MandyBear (@mandybear)
4 years ago

I have to admit, until today I never once thought Honey committed suicide. I thought she was crying “needlessly” in the middle of the day because she’d just found out she was dying from a terminal illness, and that’s what she died of all alone when he was not at home. The notion that she might have killed herself just shocks and saddens me even more than the song already does :'(. Poor Honey!