It’s been too long since the last time I wrote something and I am feeling it. On the other hand, there really hasn’t been anything to drive me to write.
But I listened to three songs in a row the other night. They weren’t out of the ordinary for my usual playlists, but they did fall in an order that made sense, particularly in the context of a discussion with a friend.
“A friend of mine thought he had beat esophageal cancer, and now a couple years later, he has a brain tumor that’s cancerous. It’s spreading. He’s going in for surgery and treatment (chemo, radiation). I don’t think I could do it unless the odds were really good. What about you? You’ve been through brain surgery, would you go through all that pain and sickness again, or chemo?”
“In a heartbeat, unless it is was pretty clearly pointless.”
“Really. I’m struggling with the idea of even seeing him right after surgery.”
“Do you want to see what I looked like? I’ve got pictures.”
Here I am, the day after surgery, February 14, 2010. More tubes than you can shake a stick at. Next to that is me just a few weeks ago on my way to Orlando. It is amazing, is it not?
Yeah, it will be a long time before I am ready to think about giving up. I remember there was pain, I remember there was sickness, I remember there was weakness. What I don’t remember is any of these things. I only remember they were present and part of life. Because of that, these things don’t scare me. I will never look forward to them by any means, but for now, they don’t scare me.
These were the three songs I heard that night:
- Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah“
- Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt“
- David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners“
There is something compelling about “Hallelujah” whether it’s an argument with God, a song of broken love, or something in between. The lyrics go out of their way to to say everything but ask “Why?” And it is because it just doesn’t matter. Things happen. Too many things happen without explanation, certainly without good explanation. I found one source claims Cohen described the song thus:”It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.” I think this is much the same way that the 300 or so covers of the song all have equal value, but probably none sound anything like the bootleg recording of the live performance by Bob Dylan.
When Johnny Cash covered the Nine-Inch Nails’ song “Hurt,” it was a new creation. Cash interpreted the song into a discourse of aging, failure of the body, and the memories of sin and failed intentions.
I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stain of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
My inner world remains unchanged, but everything else changes, including you. I stay locked within my own head, I see out through my eyes as I always did, why do you look at me so strangely, why don’t you see me at all? At this writing, I am 56, and I don’t feel it. Most days I still feel like I am 20 years younger. What is this aging stuff? I can still do anything, right? (Maybe not.)
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way
And as “Hurt” ends with these lyrics the music also ends in a crashing finale, the transition to “Absolute Beginners” begins with a swirling escape hinting at something exotic. I’ve loved this song since it came out so many years ago. It’s a great love song, one that works over and over again.
Nothing much could happen
Nothing we can’t shake
Oh we’re absolute beginners
With nothing much at stake
As long as you’re still smiling
There’s nothing more I need
I absolutely love you
But we’re absolute beginners
But if my love is your love
We’re certain to succeed
These lyrics are about beginnings and hope. Ostensibly the song is about being a beginner at love, but isn’t that true each time you fall in love anew? Or at least it feels that way. “Absolute Beginners” gives us the sense of hope that had faded in “Hurt” and returns us to a point of saying “Hallelujah” once again.
It’s a hell of loop. I have to wonder at the algorithm that created it. I don’t remember which Amazon music channel it was on, but I am pretty sure it was the Leonard Cohen channel. Sometimes, just sometimes, I am stunned at how good these sequences are. Most times, not so much. Perhaps though it is just randomization that happened to fall that way on a specific day.
Like what usually happens in life.
Music like this keeps me going when the world seems too much. It reminds me there is no reason to give up while I still have energy to draw a breath, or to get up in the morning. Energy to take a stand.