Wednesday, November 5, 2014

There are Sad Songs, and Then There are Sad Songs ...

Since the local “we play anything” radio station shifted to the far right side of the dial and doesn’t come in on my wee transistor radio anymore at work, I’ve been forced to listen to the rock station morning show every day (it’s either that or silence, easy listening hell, or KUNTRY).  Fortunately, they don’t have a political agenda, but it tends to be a good three hours of screamy opinions on inconsequential horsefeathers, but oddly enough they do tend to choose pretty good incidental music when they play a tune between blitherings.  Fortunately too, I listen quietly enough that few of the actual words come through my pitiful hearing.

But today there was a moment where the DJ asked his co-host or whatever, “What’s your saddest song?” and went onto a tangent “It’s supposed to make you feel good – but hearing sad songs doesn’t make me feel GOOD, it makes me all blubbery!”

My saddest song was very definitely not written sad in its day, nor is the particular version that makes me weep performed and recorded in a tearjerker style, but the things in life that generate our most powerful emotions are rarely ever those pieces of art and entertainment specifically designed to engender reactions.  Sure, a good tearjerker of a movie gets me gooey, but the emotion tends to be fleeting, gone once I change the channel or go to bed or read something funny or talk to another human being.  It’s real and personal associations, particularly ones of long standing, that “get us.”

When my brother and I were kids, it was a fact that sometimes we found ourselves more enthusiastic about our pillows than our classrooms.  Yes, strange but true.  On such days as he found it difficult to get us out of bed, dad would take out his Switched-On Bach album (then credited to Walter Carlos), put it on the HiFi, and turn up the volume as loud as it would go – playing the Brandenberg Concerto.

Such a rousing piece of music, very much enhanced by the early Moog synthesizer and a liberal, bracing sense of experimentation, was difficult to sleep through.  Challenging, too, for me in partiuclar, was dad’s habit of following this wake-up call by picking up my whole leg by the big toe (for temperature regulation, I used to sleep with one foot or even an entire leg out from under the covers) and SHAKING IT.

“UP AND AT ‘EM!” he’d bluster, sometimes even being so bitterly cruel as to take our covers away.  A terrible thing, just when you’ve got both the protection of a cover and the temperature regulation of the bare leg.  He loused up a delicate balance, mean thing that he was.  And the music was a challenge to ignore, even without the disruptions to bed-snuggling.


Meanwhile, the Moog hurtled through the massive music, shaking the walls, probably alerting every neighbor for a five-house radius that The Major Kids were having a hard time getting out of bed again.  We did like the raucous, rousing music, but not always its timing.

Of course, forty years on, and dad having died nearly twelve years ago now, that recording – those memories and associations – mean something entirely different, and, oddly enough, it’s possible to curl down into the sweeping sound of synthesized Bach in a whole different way.  It’ll never be so soft as to be cozy, but the music and the memory can wrap you up quite completely – and, especially when it gets to that triumphal bombast, the intentionally-emotional part, the mental image of dad WHISTLING this music (a recording my brother and I have only in our heads now) is engulfing and heartbreaking and wonderful all at once.

We miss him so much, yet the gratitude that we got the dad we did is always there.  He could hardly have planned a better remembrance for himself.  Classical music but a modern, almost scientific experimentalism, chest-swelling triumph, and a pair of kids he invested all his heart and mind into raising, loving him and each other and not sunk into mourning.

Sadness done right DOES feel good.  Even when it makes you all blubbery.

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