[Author’s note: Yes, it’s been a lifetime or two since I last blogged. Yes, buckets and buckets of things, bad, good and incredible have happened during this time. No, I’m not going to attempt to summarize or recap them here—that’s what Facebook is for. Yes, I’ll friend you as long as I see no evidence that you’re a bot or a teabagger. Yes, “Music Monday” and “Wordless Wednesday” are blog clichés used by sometimes lame bloggers who can’t just, well, write more, so they come up with cute concepts to prompt themselves to post more often. Anything else? That’s what the “Comment” box is for.]
Like most of us who aren’t dead (Widower joke. Ha fucking ha.), a good song can make me cry. Heck, a BAD song can make me cry, but it’s gotta be a really GOOD bad song. Most of the time, it doesn’t take a Psychology degree to figure out what about a certain song dovetails with our personal emotional landscape at that moment, even if it has little to do with what the songwriter might have been originally writing about. As Dave Matthews wrote:
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
Somebody’s heart is broken and it becomes your favorite song
But other times, it’s more of a puzzle. More of a “Thick Picnic,” as Julie used to say. (She liked the concept so much it became the title of her first solo recording.) THIS was definitely a Thick Picnic.
I first heard this song on Bride of the Noisemakers, Bruce Hornsby’s latest record of new and old material, all recorded live with his band, yes, The Noisemakers. Now, that, right there, is an accomplishment. I have listened to and loved Bruce and his music for decades, but since seeing him live at the Oregon Zoo in 2005, things got pretty heavy-duty, to the point where unless a song has just come out, I’ve been likely to not only to have heard it, but to also have a favorite live version, either audience taped or as released by the artist himself.
So you can imagine my surprise as I’m leaving a food cart downtown in the early summer of 2011 and fire up my iPod to hear a song of his I’d never heard before. But, of course, it gets better. (Or worse. Pick one. Or two.)
I’d been, shall we say, raw-ther distraught over a dating relationship. (No, you won’t get salacious details here. The closest you’ll get is here, here, here AND here.) So, while at first, the song’s overall feeling of sadness over a lost love seemed to fit like a glove. Except, as we found out in a famous trial 20 years ago, sometimes gloves just don’t fit. No matter how much it seems like they should.
This is no fond farewell
You can be sure I could wish it was no farewell at all
Well, THAT sure fit.
It’s been a good long run
Screeeech!! Allright, hold it right there. It hadn’t been a “run” at all, and what there had been certainly hadn’t been “long.” When you were married for 19 years, 2 months might be “something,” but it’s certainly not “long.”
And I will do alright
Well in truth, I might
I may be stumbling round on some cold night
I will miss the times when we were so right
Although it seems so long ago, so long
This is my swan song, I’m gone, gone
This is no sorrowful day
You can be sure I’ve got no axe to grind at all
“Like HELL I don’t!” I would think whenever this line came up. This “failure to launch,” was anything but my idea. Even more infuriating, it didn’t really seem like an “idea” or an intentional act at all—just one confusing and confused twist in the road after another. (Now, of course, I’m TREMENDOUSLY thankful things worked out, or didn’t, the way they did, but, at the time, well, YOU know…)
Sometimes it’s the right thing to cut the cord
You’ve been holding on hard but your hands get sore
Sometimes it’s worth it, but sometimes you wonder what for
I think these lines have moved me more than almost any other, but again, the “fit” was not much better than David Byrne in The Big Suit. There hadn’t been anything to hold on TO, and what there had been hadn’t been for long enough for anything to get sore. (GET your minds out of the GUTTER, ya HEAR? Shit. There hadn’t even been any of THAT.)
Months went by. I was over whatshername. Well, mostly. Took a long time, a lot longer than I would have thought. A lot longer than it took for me to get over my first “real” relationship after being widowed. Of course, I knew, once you’ve had a big loss, every other loss becomes amplified, no matter how much it may pale in comparison. BOY did I know that. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 7, which helped explain why I held on to every high-school crush until it was LONG past embarrassing.
But still, there was something about this song that, even when I really WAS over whatshername, it could still bring me to tears.
It did again this morning. Now, again, without satisfying anyone’s prurient interest, here’s the deal: I have a new love. Someone I have every intention of staying with for the rest of our lives. She is beyond imagination fantastic, and we are, frankly, wonderful for and with each other. So, driving to work today, the sentiment and sadness in this song, was as far away from my emotional landscape as one could get.
But the tears still came. WTF?? And just as they really started to flow (that point where you couldn’t try and choke them back, even if you wanted to), it hit me.
This song, for me, wasn’t about whatshername. It wasn’t about the loss of something that had hardly started. It was about giving up on the love that hadn’t left. Well, not by choice she didn’t.
While I will take to my grave (and YOURS if you say it too many times around me!) my hatred for phrases like “moving on,” and “letting go,” the fact was, I had been holding on tight to my love of 21 years. And 22 months after her death, my hands were indeed sore. Sure, I had dated. Yes, I had been in a relationship. Yes, I had been ready for a while to try and be in another one. But nowhere along that road had I ever felt the need to give UP my relationship with my late wife. Certainly no one had asked me to. (Pity the FOOL who would have tried!) But the weight of that relationship felt like an extra 21 blankets on the bed. Warm and cozy, sure. But when you actually feel like you might be ready to get up, that you might have the strength to get up out of bed and really engage with the world, they literally weigh you down. You can’t get up. You want to, but you can’t.
I wanted to. I was ready to. But I had to pull back the weight that was on top of me. That enveloped and surrounded me. That nurtured and cushioned me. That reassured and reminded me I was loved and loveable and could do the hard work as well as the good times.
And I think I was starting to be ready to, in the early summer, when I first heard this song. And I think that’s why things with whatshername hurt so much out of proportion to the “things” themselves. I was ready, and she was there; a perfect foil for my cutting of the chord. Only when she didn’t come along, I think perhaps I had already cut that chord, with no one there to hang onto if I’m “stumbling round on some cold night.”
So I dusted myself off. Took the kids to see Bruce at the Zoo.
(Drag to see more of the image or click to view the full panorama.)
Whatshername had said she’d come (out of the blue—we hadn’t talked in months), but then flaked out at the last minute. Whatever. In a sign that the Pyscho Mind-Reading iPod from Hell had infected Bruce himself, he ignored ALL of our requests (“Swan Song” being the first, of course) but instead freaked out his band by playing a song they apparently had never played as a band. A song that was SO much more perfect for what I was feeling about whatshername. It was also one of Julie’s favorite songs, though it was too sad for her to be able to listen to very much. Thankfully, I’ve found one example of him performing it live, very much as he did that evening in July:
Yeah, this one made me cry, too.
This morning, listening and crying to “Swan Song,” the power of love had led me to see what I’d been really crying about this whole time.