The Snot Heard 'Round the World
Two weeks into the school year and Daughter has her first cold. It’s like Old Faithful with phlegm. Her version runs about five days, with not one of those days being compromised by anything but a general all-over increase in Child Moisture. Consort and my version, on the other hand, is going on its seventh day with no end in sight with a brain-clenching headache and a constant background mantra which sounds like:
“You know what you should do right now? You should nap.”
“Here’s a little more head-clenching for not obeying me.”
This cold is behaving as if I owe it money.
And when I am not sniffing over a rampant rhinovirus, I am sniffing over Randy Newman, which is all Garrison Keillor’s fault. The week after Katrina decimated New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, NPR re-ran an earlier broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” which featured singer/songwriter/composer Randy Newman playing a song he wrote called “Louisiana 1927”. If you have never heard Randy Newman sing, imagine your uncle who gets drunk at holidays and sings “Danny Boy”, then mix that voice with a soulful frog; it’s not always tuneful, but it’s always heartfelt. Randy Newman is a New Orleans native. He had written this song years ago about a devastating flood which hit Louisiana in 1927. It includes the following lyrics:
The river rose all day.
The river rose all night.
Some people got lost in the flood.
Some people got away alright.
This lovely song, sung by his fallible voice and accompanying himself alone on the piano, sent me into tears. I promptly ran to the computer and downloaded it onto my IPod. I’ve listened to it several times over the next few days, crying every time. I guess someone needed a catharsis.
A few days later, I noticed the song wasn’t making me cry anymore. Do you suppose I decided to cross back over to the sunny side of the street and switched over to my IPod workout mix -- which includes such emotional powerhouses at “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real” by the eternally falsetto Sylvester? No, not me.
I bounded back to the iTunes music website and searched out Randy Newman again, as I remembered he had other songs which made me cry (In case you’re curious, I also enjoy sticking my tongue against a canker sore to make sure that it still hurts like crazy). Mr. Newman has written wonderful bouncy, silly music for such children’s films as “Toy Story”, “Toy Story 2”, and “Monsters, Inc.”, and the eternally flip “I Love LA”. But if I wanted happy, I would have stuck with the “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” soundtrack.
I honed in on his work in dramatic soundtracks; “The Natural”, “Ragtime”, “Seabiscuit”, “Pleasantville”. At his best, with only a piano, Randy Newman can make you think of the last summer Sunday afternoon you all spent as a family before Grandma became bedridden and Dad took to drink; it’s all sunny amber late-afternoon light and melancholy wisps at the same time.
I listened to “Ragtime”; I listened to “Seabiscuit”; I dabbled in parts of “The Natural”, and I was melancholy. Yea verily, I was melancholy. But I wasn’t getting that satisfying “BWAH hah hah” for which I had been longing, with the sodden tissue pressed to my nose and a bag of mint Milanos evaporating supportively at my elbow.
So I went back to ITunes and briefly considered Chopin, but determined he makes me wistful, not tearful. I lingered over a few songs I had played obsessively during certain break-ups, but quickly realized these would just make me embarrassed over the time I had wasted mooning over idiots rather than cathartically sad. Damn it, I wanted sad. Back to looking at the Randy Newman catalog again, I saw it.
The “Terms of Endearment” of songs.
Oddly enough, it’s in a children’s film. In “Toy Story 2”, there is a song which is played during a montage where we find out about how a doll had been loved by a girl who had grown up and moved on:
When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful.
Every hour we spent together, lives within my heart.
And when she was sad, I was there to dry her tears.
And when she was happy, so was I when she loved me.
Through the summer and the fall, we had each other, that was all
just she and I together, like it was meant to be.
And when she was lonely, I was there to comfort her.
And I knew that she loved me.
So the years went by, I stayed the same
and she began to drift away, I was left alone.
Still I waited for the day, when she’d say I will always love you.
Lonely and forgotten, never thought she’d look my way,
She smiled at me and held me, just like she used to do,
Like she loved me, when she loved me.
When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful,
Every hour we spent together, lives within my heart
When she loved me.
The song was written and sung by Sarah McLachlan, a woman who can make me cry by singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”, and the music, thanks to Randy Newman, was almost painfully poignant; it is the perfect storm of musical misery.
I sat in that theater and cried into my hand (who thinks to bring Kleenex to a PIXAR film?). I wanted to call my mother and apologize for something. I wanted to grab every child in that theater and moan “Just promise me you won’t have your assistant call your mother on her birthday”, because I wasn’t weird enough being an adult alone in a kid’s movie in the middle of the day.
I downloaded and happily cried. While blotting my eyes, I remembered that she did a version of “Blackbird” I seemed to remember as also being terribly sad. Also, Randy Newman created a score for a movie called “Avalon” which was a veritable mantle of gentle misery.
Neither exists on iTunes, but I am in active pursuit, and I will find them, and I will cry. And when I have used every tissue in the house and two washcloths, I will play “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus, as a post-lachrymal cool-down and cheer-up. And I know I will emerge from this spent, but happy, brushing mint Milano crumbs from my cleavage. .
Think of it as Spinning for the tear ducts.