Monday, July 9, 2001

Sweet Old World

The other night, days after the two year anniversary (but who's keeping count?) of the moment my Mom gasped for her last breath Mr. Max lie down beside me on my bedroom futon. I held him tight and he, just having consumed some of his dinner, let out the sound of what can only be inadequately described as a kitty burp. His unique inflection somehow reminded me dearly of my favorite saunterer who in an otherwise moment of total elegance and grace is known to belch with the best of 'em.

Max and I had just finished watching a TNT all star tribute to Brian Wilson that was much better than those sometimes rather icky and gushing hideous television events. The artists involved (Ricky Martin, Vince Gill, Wilson Phillips, Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Matthew Sweet, etc.) did a nice mixture of the ultra-popular Beach Boys tunes with some of Brian's more obscure (and decidedly more melancholy) efforts.

The absolute highlight of the show for me was the married artist couple Aimee Mann and Michael Penn performing perhaps the most heartbreaking song ever written, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." It was a rather appropriate duet for the two to sing seeing that neither of their respectable body of work has received the appropriate attention from the masses. And when they traded the marked time chorus lines of "Sometimes I feel VERY sad" and "I guess I just wasn't meant for these times..." they unerringly captured the heart of the song of one who is as full of bitterness and self pity as he/she is of hope that something better is just around the corner. It was a stellar performance.

Yet it reminded me of all those hundreds and thousands of dollars spent in therapy figuring out nothing other than getting to the question without an answer: what so attracts me to sadness? Why do I so admire the insomniac who can sleep through the night as well as the narcoleptic who makes it through a day without falling victim to unwanted slumber? How about that chronic asthmatic who finishes an in-line skating marathon in more than impressive time?

I was reminded of this just a week before as I was a grateful eyewitness to Wilson's performance at the Xcel Center teamed with fellow 60's icon Simon. I was seated in front of a couple who obviously were there to see Simon. I overheard a conversation where the guy was criticizing his partner for buying Beatles' records (so the lighthearted Beach Boys stood no chance) when she was growing up because they were nothing but fluff (obviously the type who would boo Mr. Dylan for turning electric). The two of them refused to stand when the rest of the crowd danced to "Surfin' USA," "Good Vibrations," and "Fun Fun Fun."

After Wilson's set was finished I heard the guy utter to a seatmate who had just arrived, "That was very sad. He's so burnt out he couldn't even hit the notes. It was PAINFUL." Yes witnessing Brian perform these days takes a bit of empathy for where he's been and that he isn't exactly the most animated person on stage. His legendary stage fright takes back seat to his fragile mental state. He seems to exist only in the moment, almost childlike as the filters that others have developed to present themselves to the world in an acceptable fashion don't exist. And yes he strains to hit the notes but to realize that this is the man that has created so many wonderful and under appreciated songs and to be able to be in the same space as him is to understand why his talent is so huge and universal and admirable.

There have been a couple times, and a couple people in my life whom I given some music to because it meant so much to me that I wanted to share and the disappointing response I get is, "it was too depressing to listen to." I'm not sure I understand that. Yeah the lyrics may be sad and the music moody and introspective but how can it not be an uplifting experience to share in the music of an artist who is so willing to share of their gift and heart and express the depth of emotion that is what life has to be about? The music might not be suitable for dancing or head bobbin' but the sheer artistry ought to be worth paying attention to.

And so it goes with this last time I fell in love. After listening to Lucinda Williams latest CD Essence I marveled at what a totally honest effort it is. The relationship with another fizzled as the relationship of the heart and mind coalesces to form song after song of stunning beauty. So moved was I that I only previously owning Williams' last CD Car Wheels on a Gravel Road went out and purchased all of her back catalog. I was properly enjoying the reward when I heard the song "Sweet Old World" for the first time.

The song was written after a former lover committed suicide. The lyrics chide the lost soul for giving up when there is so much beauty in this world to appreciate and love. "Millions of us in love/Promises made good/Your own flesh and blood/Looking for some truth/Dancing with no shoes..." It's a great song sung in a most vulnerable and wistful sometimes cracking voice. Hello Billie Holiday. Yes Ricky Martin may sing circles around Brian Wilson technically in a sunny world but I'll take the authenticity of a naked soul revealing themselves for us any day, any night.

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