Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sad Songs Say So Much

It is a popular cliche that cliches are cliches because they are true.
That is to say that most, if not all, cliches are merely universal truths of human existence repeated over and over to the point of triteness. One such truth is that emotional pain can often inspire great art; or suicide, which will not seem as unrelated to anything I'm about to write by the time we get to the end of this.
A couple of nights ago, I was listening to Fleetwood Mac's 1977 masterpiece Rumours, which is what inspired all this deep (for me, at least) thought about the nature of cliches and the genesis of art. Break-ups and divorces are a particularly fertile breeding ground for both heartache and great music, especially when the couple (or couples) splitting up are in the same band. Rumours stands as quitessential proof of this thesis.
Written and recorded at a time when the band's two couples, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and John and Christine McVie, were both deep into the process of disintegrating, the songs on Rumours are sad, bitter, bittersweet, and, ultimately, hopeful, sometimes all at once. Rereading that sentence, it seems odd that a project this emotionally intense and personal would become the top selling record of the 1970's, yet the group did couch their despair in the catchy, poppy melodies and flawless harmonies that by then had become their trademark.
Another example of what I'm going on about here is ABBA. Until late in their career, the Swedish quartet was known for light, fluffy, and, frankly, not very good, pop singles. it wasn't until the two married couples who comprised the group simultaneously divorced that ABBA began making music that mattered, or was, at the very least, worth listening to. Songs like "The Winner Takes It All" and, most especially, "Knowing Me, Knowing You" are such haunting and beautiful expressions of melancholy and regret that it is difficult to fathom that they came from the same outfit responsible for "Dancing Queen."
I will assume that you are beginning to hope for some sort of point to all this, but as I wrote the first draft of this piece in my spiral notebook while I was listening to Rumours, I honestly didn't think there was one--except for me just wanting to share my not so original observations about the great album that I was listening to right that moment.
Or perhaps the point was that it is true, and thus, to not so neatly bring this rambling mess full circle, a cliche that great art and commercial success need not be mutually exclusive.
Or maybe I just felt an odd need to justify the fact, before the entire world, or at least the five people who read this blog, that I truly, and without any trace of faux hip "irony," really dig ABBA.
Actually, that's not it at all. None of it. It finally occurred to me that what this shambling monster of a blog post is about is the choices that we all, each and every one of us, must make many times in our lives; choices about how we deal with heartache and pain and loss. We can either pick ourselves up, go on with our lives and try to make something positive of the experience--such as, say, the sixth best selling album ever--or we can give up; stop taking taking chances for fear of being hurt again and, in essence, stop living.
In a WHAM! video from the 1980's, george Michael is wearing one of those oversized T-shirts with giant black letters that were inexplicably fashionable at the time decorated with the phrase Choose LIFE. It has been taken by many, and may even have been intended by Michael, as an anti-abortion statement, but I choose to think that it means pretty much the same thing that, ultimately, is the elusive "point" of this piece:
Don't Give Up.
Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.
Choose LIFE!

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