Pondering Tribalism, Donny And Marie

by Kevin Burton

   Today I am thinking of a song it appears not many others have pondered deeply.

   Stay with me now.

   The song is “Morning Side Of The Mountain,” which I remember as a number 8 hit in 1974 for Donny and Marie Osmond. The song actually was written by Larry Stock and Dick Manning for Tommy Edwards.

   That version went to number 24 in 1951 and to number 27 when Edwards re-released it in 1959. Edwards caresses the song with a velvety delivery that makes me want to explore the other songs he released.

   Edwards is best known for “It’s All In The Game,” a number one hit in September of 1958.

   I’m looking at sites such as Songfacts and others that speculate on what different lyrics mean and I’m striking out completely. So it terms of people parsing the lyrics, Morning Side is not exactly American Pie.

   The song has that hit formula, in that anyone can plug themselves into the situation.  It starts like a fairy tale, “There was a girl, there was a boy…” the background singers on the 1974 version give it a bit of an ethereal quality.

   It paints romantic love is that rosy hue that lovers want to see, right down to the metaphor in the bridge, “love’s a rose that never grows without the kiss of the morning dew.”

   And who hasn’t said at one time or another “for all we know our love is just a kiss away”? Can you not think of those times in your past? Lightning never struck, because of timing or circumstance, God’s restraining hand, or just the swiftness of life’s currents pulling you another way.

   In the song, none of the joys of love are possible because “he lived on the morning side of the mountain and she lived on the twilight side of the hill.”

    Actually, in the Edwards version the girl is on the morning side, the boy on the twilight side. Not sure if that is significant.

   Another story of tragic lost love climbs the charts.

     Well I’m old now so when I hear “they’ll never know what happiness they missed” I realize instantly that they’ll also “never know what misery they missed.”

   The syllables even fit if you want to sing it that way.

   So that’s about it for the boy/girl bit.

   I really mentioned the song today because of the artificial divide aspect. We don’t even need to be talking about a romance here. 

   In these post-national divided American times I am thinking of this song in terms of divisions and separations.

   In the song, the mountain feels like something that can be traversed, if only the girl and boy knew what waited on the other side, if they only had the imagination to conceive that something good could be on the other side.

   But I also wonder if there is a racial aspect to it. Does the morning side represent whites and the twilight side blacks? 

   When the Edwards version was released, that would have seemed an untraversable mountain.  And songwriters didn’t come right out with such laments the way say Hot Chocolate did in 1973 with “Brother Louie.” 

   America always has had its points of divide.  The racial one is the easiest to see.

But really anything census workers can count, anything demagogues on talk radio can invent, any difference in class, status and power, in post-national America becomes a tribe. 

  Any mask, any vaccine, social distancing, on and on.

   So at the end of the song you get the feel of a teenage “tragedy” that will blow away with the next wind.  It’s like a floating bubble. If you reached out and popped it, no great loss.

   With post-national America this is not two sides of the same mountain, this is two planets on a collision course. This is star wars, a fight to the finish.  

   How much compassion and understanding have we forfeited in the name of tribalism?  You understand the concept of opportunity cost? How high is that right now?

   Even cold-hearted enlightened self-interest is preferable to all-out war.  When the mind shuts down at the mere mention the other tribe, who exactly wins?

   Kids, it takes a special talent to get from Donny and Marie to American tribalism is the space of a three-minute song, don’t you think?

   Also, I leave you with this: I have a mix CD on which the Donny and Marie version of Morning Side is followed immediately by “Get The Funk Out Ma Face.” by the Brothers Johnson.

   If you can think of a more jarring musical juxtaposition, by all means, mention it in comments below. 

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