A half forgotten song

I heard the song only once. It was the end of the quarter crunch at my college, and the computer center was crowded. The fact that we all had to go to a computer center with mainframes to get our work done, I know, dates me. I remember the song, or half remember it, partly because the tune was catchy, and the words just repetitive enough to be memorable, but also because the occasion was unusual. Many times I had listened to some other student sing and play guitar, in one or another living room or bedroom in student housing, or when the coffee house had an open mic night. Never before or since did I hear someone sing and play in the computer center, sitting right beside the terminal where we entered ourselves in the queue for computer time. As the queue was long, I got to listen to the whole song.

I don’t know whether it was a song by a professional artist, that I only heard the once, and can recover, if someone else happens to recognize the words I have remember, or whether it was a song composed by the student who sang it, perhaps now forgotten by nearly everyone else except the singer. I’ve half remembered both. There’s the song one of my college roommates loved, “Wake Me Up Gentle,” which I’ve recovered once I found someone else who knew it. But there’s also a snatch of lyrics that I still remember from a guy I knew in high school:

And it’s hey, hey, I’ve been in the night,

Looking for a brighter view of life.

I’ve been in the middle, when I should be on the side.

Time and again I’ve changed my aims,

And find myself on old St. James,

To see what I can salvage from what washes in the tide.

And there’s another that I half remember that was written by a college friend:

Leslie, can your guitar come out and play today?

It seems to me it gets a little lonely,

Sitting there in your chair.

Leslie, can your guitar come out and play?

This song might be one of those. It was, I would say, a passionately “one day at a time” song, and I am reminded of it often when someone says some version of that phrase. The first verse began, “If only I can make it through today,” and I remember some of the rhythm of the rest of the verse, but not the words, because a single hearing is rarely (only once, really) enough for me to learn a song. The second verse began, “If only I can make it through this week,” and the next line, perhaps, “Maybe then the future won’t look quite so bleak,” or something of the kind (that was definitely the right rhythm. And so it built up to the conclusion, “Still, I think I’ll try to make it through this life, if only I can make it through today.”

If anyone has ever heard of the song, and can fill in my memory, feel free to let me know. If no one else knows it, I have half a mind, someday, to write my own version of the rest of it, just so that, when it comes to mind, I can have a whole song running through my head rather than less than half a song.

 

Review: Love and Mercy

I’m always a little on edge when I sit down to watch a movie about someone living with mental illness, particularly if it is a true story. Did the actors, writers, and director get what it is like to live with mental illness or did they make a caricature of it? Did they romanticize it? Did they put a hockey mask over the face of the sufferer and an ax in his hand? Is it another ECT scene out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Or do we get the truth?

Bill Pohlad’s Love and Mercy had me worried about romanticization before I saw it. I dreaded that he would render the illness of Beach Boy Brian Wilson as cute and fuzzy, something that would make us wonder whether we were too cruel when it came to the mentally ill. It did do that, but there is a right way to go about it and a wrong way. The wrong way declares that there is no such thing as mental illness; it diminishes the impact that the illness has on those closest to the sufferer and suggests that the illness that afflicted the likes of Brian Wilson was little more than a personality quirk. Pohlad and his cast did it the right way: it acknowledges the severity of Wilson’s illness, but also turns a harsh eye towards his guardian/therapist, one Eugene Landy and his sadistic oversight of the musical great. Paul Giamatti’s performance was so to the T that when Wilson watched the movie, he experienced a severe dissociative state where he believed for several minutes that Giamatti was Landers come back to haunt him.

Read More

What is that song you sing for the dead

I bought the album Carrie and Lowell because I had read that it was about Sufjan Stevens’ relationship with his mentally ill mother. Carrie, Stevens’ mother, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After she died, he wrote songs about his grief for her and his complicated relationship with her.

When I was three, three maybe four
She left us at that video store

I had a vague impression that Stevens was a Christian singer/songwriter. This is true in the sense that he’s both a singer/songwriter and a Christian, but turns out not to describe his songs (nor does he describe himself this way). While they contain religious imagery, it’s more the kind of religious imagery that you’d get from Leonard Cohen – tangled with varied emotions and accounts of his life – than the kind that’s straightforward worship and praise. The songs have a folk rock sound, with complex lyrics and simple, gentle tunes. The song with the most explicit religious allusions, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” combines that cross reference with lines like “There’s blood on that blade, fuck me, I’m falling apart,” just as it combines the memory of his mother with reference to some newer romantic love. Emotions range from forgiveness to despair, and allusions are classical as well as Christian.

the only thing that keeps me from driving this car
half light jacknife into the canyon at night
signs and wonders, perseus aligned with a skull
slaying medusa, pegasus alight from us all

Am I right in seeing a reference to Oedipus in “Should I tear my eyes out now?”