Sunday, February 20, 2005


Lemon tree, very pretty
And the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon
Is impossible to eat

For reasons I cannot fathom or explain, the song "Lemon Tree," particularly as interpreted by Trini Lopez, has haunted me for most of my conscious life. Lopez added his driving Latin beat to this folk song, which had already charted for the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary, and scored an even bigger hit (#20) in 1965.

When I listen to it today, I am immediately drawn back in time. I see the carpet in my parents' living room, the fabric covering the hi-fi speaker; hear the springy but urgently strummed 12-string guitar Lopez played. Somehow, this song was a comfort, despite employing the lemon tree as a metaphor for love: it's beautiful, but often sours.

My parents were big Trini Lopez fans, and his music could bring enjoyment to an otherwise angry and difficult household. I recall hearing this song played when my parents had parties, hearing the floorboards rock in time to the dancing above my bedroom when I was supposed to be sleeping through a slightly boozy get together. My parents then were younger than I am now.

In the intervening years, I saw the lyric as a metaphor not just for love, but for life: it can be beautiful (no thanks to Roberto Benigni), but it ends. Our time here is temporary.

One of the things that always interested me in Trini's version is the totally unironic joy present in his delivery. His trademark smile - just try to find a picture of him without it pasted across his face - is there in his singing of this fairly sad little song. That mismatch, a happy treatment of an unhappy tale, intrigues me to this day.

Maybe Trini's positivity is the only smart choice in an uncertain world. We're all going to die some day, so why not smile even through the sad parts?



Blogger dottcomments said...

This is pretty weird. My experience of this song is quite similar to yours with a few exceptions.

My parental image is of my widowed mother at the kitchen sink, singing along to the radio, dishtowel in hand, us young ones chiming in ... "lemon tree, veeerrry preeetttyyy, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of zee poor leeemon, eees im-poss-ee-bul to eeet."

7:51 PM  

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