Monday, September 17, 2007

Send In the Clowns

I wrote this exactly two years ago. I submitted it to NPR, thinking maybe they would consider it for a short listener commentary. I guess it isn't that good because it was never selected. My cousin and I recently had an exchange on the topic, and this caused me to briefly reconnect with the piece.

When my husband and I first separated, my stomach sank every time a sappy love song came on the radio. Songs that I used to think were really lame were suddenly pulling at my heartstrings every time I got in the car. What was once a song in the background at the pharmacy was now reducing me to hot, steamy tears. I thought it was a cruel joke that the universe was playing on me. It seemed that all these songs were being played on purpose to trigger guilty feelings within me. To punish me for letting go of my marriage. To remind me that I was a bad, selfish, horrible person who had no business enjoying a car ride free of sadness. I started listening to a lot more classical music. It helped. At least until I gained some perspective.

I had a revelation one day. I was walking down the street when suddenly a sappy love song started pouring out of some car and I thought: Wow, I feel truly bad for that songwriter. For a person to be that dependent, that desperate, that unable or unwilling to help him or herself up and begin a search for happiness - is pathetic. The people who write and perform these songs must live in a perpetual state of emotional paralysis. Who wants to feel this bad all the time? These songs suggest that the person is inconsolable for all eternity and this gets projected onto the listener, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and despair. Elliot Smith, though an excellent songwriter, presented perfect examples of this with his, "Everything Reminds Me of Her" and "Everything Means Nothing." When you part ways with someone who was a significant part of your life, the healing process must begin. And while mourning is a huge part of it, it isn’t healthy to repeatedly open your raw soul up to this difficult and sad music since it suggests that things are bad, the good times are gone and your life is ruined.

Carol King wrote a lovely song about love and loss. A mature piece called, "It's Too Late." In it, she claims that she's grateful for the love that she once shared with this person, but, hey, it's time to move on. I think it's a terrific alternative to all these forlorn tunes. You need to be uplifted. The burden on your soul needs to be lightened. You need to know that there is hope.

Maybe the reason there are so few songs like King's is that they are not easy songs to write. It takes a really secure and grounded individual to acknowledge the misery while opening one’s eyes to possibilities of the future.


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