My original intent was to post as frequently as I could, double-posting on some days, so that I could finish the 30th prompt on November 30. Friday’s Game Night kept me from even making a single post that day, and my floundering attempt to finish it had so many wild offshoots, pruned for future transplanting, that it didn’t even get posted on Saturday. But I’ll admit it: I was somewhat intentionally dragging my feet, because I didn’t want to get any closer to today’s prompt.
As I’ve said before, music can be an incredibly powerful trigger for memories and for emotions. Sometimes, that works out in my favor: I’m glad that just listening to a song can give me a rush of adrenaline that makes me feel like I could stab a charging bear in the heart with a burning electric guitar. I’m glad that some sappy romantic songs can make me feel a surge of limitless love. I’m glad that some songs can just build up to a peak that sets my every hair on end. I have no idea if other people’s limbic systems are similarly switched on by a certain high note, a certain harmony, a certain chord; I might be very lucky to be so sensitive.
But when it comes to sad songs, it’s hard not to resent that emotional capacity.
I could try to weasel out of this post, I know. I could stick to the original intent, slap down a YouTube link to single arbitrary sad song, say nothing more about it, and have done with the whole thing. But I’ve posted song upon song for most of these other prompts, I’ve gone on unmerciful tangents. The end of the childhood-related post was nothing but half a dozen songs. (Which, I just realized, I should go back and actually write down the names and titles of, since those links will surely die one of these days.) If I’m to even pretend to have a shred of writerly integrity, I can’t just shrug it off. I need to go to the places I don’t want to go, look at the things I don’t want to look at, feel the things I don’t want to feel anymore.
It’s a little scary because, well, I’m good at being sad. I know very well how easy it is to stay sad once you start. How quickly it can snowball. How easy it is to feel like nothing is ever good enough, happy enough, or loving enough to counteract everything there is to be sad about. How that very inability to appreciate goodness and joy and love feel like proof that you deserve to stay sad. How sadness itself eventually becomes a luxury, like any other emotion — something that you’re just not meaningful enough to deserve.
Moreover, this entire year has been so thoroughly imbued with stupid, depressing, frustrating, terrible things that it’s hard to rationalize being as relatively-not-sad as I am. I can’t help but fear this will open up the floodgates, I’ll feel sad for all the reasons these songs made me feel sad, I’ll feel even more sad for all the things I’m sad about now, I’ll feel still more sad for having spent so much time being sad about things as a teenager when I didn’t have anything real to worry or be sad about, I’ll feel yet more sad for being sad now instead of being a more functional person by now, and then I’ll just go to bed and curl up in a ball until, oh, March.
But at least the next day’s prompt is a fun one. So let’s forge ahead.
Certain children’s songs always made me sad when I was little. “You are lost and gone forever, O my darlin’, Clementine?” Well, that’s lovely. “Hush, Little Baby,” where everything your loving parent gives you will always end up broken or ruined, no matter how many times they try? “Rock-a-bye Baby?” We put children to sleep with a song about an infant stranded in a tree until the branch breaks and it falls to its inevitable death.
Even Sesame Street songs weren’t safe.
“I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon” always made me so sad I had to turn it off, as a kid. And, whaddaya know — after having moved a thousand miles away from home and from every person I’d ever cared about save two, it’s still really really sad.
Also, I’ll defy anyone who says “The Rainbow Connection” isn’t sad.
It’s about hope, about looking for connections between yourself and others. And about not being able to find it yet. “Someday, we’ll find it.” Someday, not now. Right now we’re all still lost. We’re all still trying to love, still trying to dream, still trying to make real our hopes. We aren’t even yet who we are. The voices are calling our name, but are they calling us by our true name? Are they calling us to greatness, or are they just singing us out to the rocks, as sirens do? We can’t just believe in rainbows and we can’t just believe in stars. All we can do is believe in wishing, in daring to want something in defiance of all logic and every rational reason it shouldn’t work. The song doesn’t promise us that dreams come true, and it doesn’t even promise us that it’s okay to dream anyway. All it can offer is the nebulous hope that we useless people of the world, we lovers, we dreamers, we wishers on stars, might someday feel less disconnected from – and by – our dreams.
Everything gets harder, every single year, and we’ll never be as safe and as loved, as innocent and blissfully ignorant, as we were before we started to actually think.
(Alabama: You’ll Never Be One Again)
And we grow up. No matter what we grow up to do or how wonderful it is or how closely our life is to what we’ve hoped for, no matter how much good we do or how many people we make happy, no matter how much we live, no matter how much we love, everyone goes away someday.
(Tom Smith: A Boy And His Frog)
Nevermind the fact that so few of us get to do such good in the world. Nevermind that so many of us fail ourselves and each other tremendously. Even if we try to avoid this, try to follow the rules, try to do things right, try to play everything safe and static and boring, it never works that way. We break and try to fix and keep breaking again. Everyone and everything still goes away.
(Johnny Cash: Hurt)
It’s not a matter of being brave enough or smart enough or good enough or strong enough. Those are all such human words, such human ideas. No matter what we want or what we do or how hard we try, sometimes things just work differently. We can try to tell ourselves it’s fate or karma, we can try to put it in the context of a greater plan. But, even then, we’re deluding ourselves into thinking that the universe operates in ways that our squishy little meatbrains are capable of comprehending. We understand some things, so we think we can understand it all. Even if we’re not theistic, we tend to think of a universe made, in some way, for us. That the universe follows rules at all times, and that those rules are things our brains are powerful enough to understand. But against the cosmos, we are so powerless that the very concept of power is absurd. Entropy always wins.
(Moby: My Weakness)
So we keep coming back to the things we can feel we understand. The human things, the emotional things. Our lives, our relationships, our wants and needs, our own tiny personal sagas. How we grow, how we love. How we try to fit in with some subset or other of our ever-arbitrary culture, since our attempts to relate to the wider world are so futile. We try to forget how transient our feelings of love and happiness and competence are — and to forget how much more rational it is to be lonely and confused and afraid as we navigate this maddeningly arbitrary world.
(Gary Jules: Mad World)
But we still want to love anyway. We want to be loved. We still just want to be held and to be cared about, to matter to someone. Even when, even because, we can’t matter anymore to ourselves. We want to love each other forever, if just for a little while. It’s so simple, and it’s still something we can so rarely have, and even when we have it, we have it so briefly. But what we want is so simple, so clear and so shining. We want love. We want home. We want forgiveness. We want them to feel safe. We don’t want to be alone. We want to be allowed to keep loving.
(Tom Waits – Take Me Home)
Everything is only temporary. Whoever and whatever it is that we love, the best we can do is try to appreciate it even as it fades. To put our arms around it, to hold it in our hearts, to take it home. To, with it, create what home is. To live in that home so long as love can last.
And, when it’s gone, to remember. And when we’re gone, to be remembered.
Just for a little while.
(The Chameleons UK – I’ll Remember)