It’s OK to Cry

The ability of the arts to touch you deeply is amazing. We’ve all watched a film where afterwards we wander into the cinema’s lobby or out into the street and everything seems so unreal. What is real is the story we just saw; how, identifying with the story and the characters, we couldn’t believe it when one of our favourite people died. The tears came, maybe we welled up; I know that I have, on a number of occasions.

Sometimes, I’ve even wept openly at a film and I don’t mind that surreal feeling upon leaving the movie; it means, to me, that I’ve really been touched.

I’ve sometimes wept when I’ve read a book that really moved me. When I was much younger, I wept at the end of Stranger in a Strange Land, that quasi-mystical science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein. I’m pretty sure I cried when I read Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Toll, although I’m not quite sure why. I know that by the end of Lord of the Rings my emotions had pretty much gone through the ringer (I was 13; it was 1967), but I never cried.

Lately, there have been three songs that have caused me to weep. The latest, David Bowie’s I Can’t Give Everything Away is both haunting and wonderful and very meaningful, written as it was with Bowie knowing that he would soon die. When I first heard it at the end of the radio show As It Happens when word got out that Bowie had just died of cancer a few days after his 69th birthday, I felt the same as when I first heard Hey Jude by the Beatles – that I was listening to something very special.

Another song that brought out the tears was Warren Zevon’s Keep Me in Your Heart, an ode to his wife, on the album The Wind and released before his death, in 2003. Somehow, turning a tragedy into a beautiful song is a very powerful thing, particularly when that tragedy is your own not-too-far-in-the-future death. He died of cancer at age 56.

Finally, there’s a song by Sting on his 2013 album, The Last Ship, (it’s too bad that the Broadway show flopped), entitled So To Speak. Some of the lyrics, in the discussion between a fictitious dying man and his caregiver, go like this:

For when that ship sails, and the course has been set,
And the wind’s in the offing and the sails have been let,
And the hatches are full, and the hull doesn’t leak,
And the ship is all ready to sail…So to speak.

O’Brian
I’m tired and fading and losing the light,
And I’ve no way to tell if it’s day or it’s night,

Meg
Follow your heart, it’s the harbour ye seek,

O’Brian
And this ship is ready to sail,
This ship is ready to sail,

Meg & O’Brian
This ship is ready to sail…So to speak.

I remember listening to this song on my IPod, while filling the shack in the back of my house with firewood, and unable to hold back the tears. Of course, it’s not just the words that move you, but the combination of three things: the lyrics, the melody and that strange energy that exists in a song when sung in the first person from a person about to die.

Today, while driving home from Montreal to my weekend country home in Glen Sutton, Quebec, when I Can’t Give Everything Away came on my IPod, that funny surreal feeling came over me again, similar to what I used to feel filing out of the cinema, that the world “out there” wasn’t real, but that the one that I had just inhabited with the characters on the screen was much, much more real.

I looked at the empty snow-covered fields flying by and it all seemed so dreamlike.

Below are some of lyrics for the sweeping and otherworldly “I Can’t Give Everything Away”. I hope that you hear this song. The lyrics alone don’t do it justice.

I know something is very wrong

The pulse returns for prodigal sons

The blackout’s hearts with flowered news

With skull designs upon my shoes

 

I can’t give everything

I can’t give everything

Away

I can’t give everything

Away

 

Seeing more and feeling less

Saying no but meaning yes

This is all I ever meant

That’s the message that I sent

 

I can’t give everything

I can’t give everything

Away

I can’t give everything

Away

david-bowie-success-anxiety

 

 

 

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