When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who introduced me to the music of Harry Chapin. I particularly liked his Cat’s in the Cradle – I rather think everyone does. But when my teacher played The Shortest Story for us, he had to leave the room, because he simply got too emotional. This was back in the prehistoric days. Mastadons roamed the Earth. We lived in caves. Men certainly did not cry in public.
When I was younger, I never understood how someone could be moved to tears by music. Sure, a song might be sad, but it’s just a song. In high school and college, I listened to the usual “alternative” rock – whatever that means. Maybe I was just doing the college alternative thing wrong, but among the usual suspects I listened to Susanne Vega, 10,000 Maniacs, and Tom Waits. There are some seriously maudlin songs in their catalogues. Take for example, Soldier’s Things, someone is clearly selling the possessions of a soldier who never came home from a war: “Everything’s a dollar in this box.” What life circumstances might cause a mother or father to sell the medals and other possessions of their son? And if it were the soldier’s wife? As a kid, I recognised the beauty of the song and how sad it was, but it didn’t really move me.
I adore listening to music and I frequently sing along. That horrible noise you sometimes hear if you listen closely? That’s probably me singing. I don’t care if you judge me. I probably don’t like your music, but that’s okay. There’s was a period in my life when I had to take a break from listening to music, but now there’s almost always music on in my home again. However, something interesting has happened in the last few decades: music moves me.
I recently bought Edge of Silence by Solas which has a gorgious cover of Georgia Lee. I’m not the only one who’s said that sooner or later everyone will cover Tom Waits. His original version of Georgia Lee is grittier of course, but no less beautiful. When ever I play either version, I can’t help find tears in my eyes. And it’s impossible for me to sing along without outright crying by the end.
I played Georgia Lee one day for Molly and at the end, she asked me why I was crying. I had to tell her about Georgia Lee Moses who was murdered in Petaluma, CA in 1997. Until that moment, I don’t think she realised the song was about something real. That songs could be about real things.
Another one of my favourite songs is Always a Smile by Emily Smith. It’s more bitter sweet rather than outright sad. It tells the story of a young woman who left home, endured horrible circumstances, and finally found happiness in Scotland. Over all a moving tale. However, when we had the pleasure of seeing Emily in concert at the Perthshire Amber festival last year, we learned this was actually the story of her own grandmother who emigrated from Eastern Europe. Suddenly, the song took on new meaning. Again, it was about something real rather than simply a pretty story.
Molly has always known me as a man who can cry. I think that’s probably good. Her cat-brother, Augustus, died when she was perhaps 5. We both wailed inconsolably for hours. Even today, she knows she has to be careful when mentioning him, because I’ll sometimes start to cry. (Even typing this I’ve started to tear up.) When there are sad bits in movies or TV shows, I make no secret of wiping tears from my eyes.
The other day she called me a “Cry Baby”, I responed with, “Yep”.
We both laughed.