Monday, May 31, 2004

The Ninth Greatest Song of All Time

So there I was late in the week standing in the middle of the street, rain appropriately pouring down from up above more drenching than cleansing, thinking to myself that demons can come in all shapes and sizes but the worst one I continue to know stands about five foot five and weighs approximately 140 pounds.

The next day, the one with a crooked pelvis who once upon a time promised me she'd help me fight this demon, told me she was tired of dealing with the aftermath, the moody shell that exists after the struggle. "You have so much to offer," she put forth in familiar frustration.

"But it was spent and used up a long time ago," I wanted to respond but lacked the energy to do so. She said that my body language and facial expressions turn people off. In a flash I found myself paralyzed again. It felt like gravity was cheating, pushing down just a little harder on me than anyone else. How could I explain sometimes it takes all the energy I can muster just to sit still in one place, afraid to move, afraid of that demon that simply has never lost its power in 18 years? But I offered no excuse, no hiding behind anything. When you live in this world you have to play by its social rules. The one with a comforting limp who used to make me smile so long ago freaked out the day she saw me just able to sway on a swing, thinking that by making that small movement the paralysis wasn't going to win this time.

I think I wrote my novel all those years ago so I wouldn't have to explain any of this in person. By oh so conveniently having it all down in writing I could never again be accused of being inscrutable, of having someone misread my look because if they wanted to take the time to know my story I could simply hand them a copy of my book.

Thankfully over time I've learned there are those out there that understand that feeling. Lucinda Williams is one, and her song "Am I Too Blue?" proves that hook, line, and sinker.

The 1988 song is so unadorned in both its melody and lyric that it is a great example of Williams' tremendous writing ability. She can be as complex and impenetrable and she can be simple and vulnerable- whatever it takes to express herself she is brave enough to do.

"Am I too blue for you?/Am I too blue?/When I cry like the sky/Like the sky sometimes/Am I too blue?"

The song is directed at someone who is apparently now missing from the singer's life. The sadness in the singer's voice explains that absence even at the same time as her words question it. It isn't easy being around someone who is depressed. Treat them as if they are the same as they once were and you risk offending them for not seeing the difference. Treat them differently and you risk making things worse because all they may want is for you to see them as they once were.

"Is the night too black?/Is the wind too rough?/Is it at your back?/Have you had enough?"

I think I've learned that being depressed doesn't always just mean being and "acting" sullen. It can be about being haunted by the unexplainable at the same time as being teased and tormented by the all too explainable.

What makes "Am I Too Blue" such a great song is it uniquely and with aching simplicity perceptively understands this paradox. The singer is at an inescapable place where someone else's absence is as depressing as their lingering presence remains. Who wants to be around someone who gets as sad at your being around as they are when you are gone? Imagine walking on those eggshells and you can begin to apprehend the perverse predicament in a being in a doomed friendship and how that association can keep one up at night and make things so hard especially in the driving rain.

"The sun beats down/It burns your skin/When you run into/My arms again"

I could listen to the song a hundred times and still feel a shiver run up and down my back. As the song suggests just being around to feel something next may make the ensuing day both an adventure and something worthwhile. And though it may seem hard to hear it may surely be worth being accessible to whatever is to follow- demons be damned.

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