Tuesday, March 27, 2012


“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” Oscar Wilde, referring to Dickens’s character in The Old Curiosity Shop.
I have been pretty well-defended against sentimentalism most of my life, as I find it unseemly, unsubtle, and unfair. Yet I find it is only the direct appeal that leaves me unmoved. Sentiment takes me by surprise more often as I get older. I have picked up from other cultural references that “The Wind Beneath My Wings” is not only considered over-the-top, but a possible best example of ridiculousness. Not to me. I get teary every time, and I have no idea why. The lyrics don’t make sense for me to sing to anyone, nor anyone to me – they just don’t apply. Perhaps I am only saying that none of my immediate circle is famous. Yet the described sentiment from the famous person to the unnoticed supporter is just very moving somehow. I’m not one of those people who can extract a single line and apply it generally, irrespective of the full context. “Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?” Nice sentiment in a lot of contexts. But if you’re going to use the song, for me the entirety of the lyrics are always present.

Which is why I get uncomfortable when people have “I’ll Be Watching You” played at their wedding receptions. Or play “Like a Prayer” as if it’s a general romance song instead of a description of oral sex, (“Betty Davis Eyes” seems to be about Bondage and Discipline, too. Just sayin’.) And nothing says “America’s national pastime” quite so well as young men being taught to sing and dance to homoerotic songs by their mothers and older sisters, eh? It’s a weird world when you pay too much attention, perhaps. It had a good beat and the kids could dance to it, as they used to say on American Bandstand*, and no one is paying any attention to what the words mean, even if they are screaming them while the DJ plays.

I’m way off track here. This is a mark of bad writing, children, to make the connection between your first and second paragraphs so tenuous.

Country music derives its power from being “three chords and the truth.” (We’re back to paragraph one, here.) We can laugh at overblown sentiment, but it is still true that beloved young wives sometimes die, and what are you going to sing that’s appropriate? Some clever ironic piece with a touch of sadness? Don’t be ridiculous – it’s a horrible tragedy. Singers get paid to break your heart.

 Or maybe, as I have previously worried, I am just going to become one of those old guys who tears up at slight provocation. My father never was that guy until the end. *Get Sponge-Headed Scienceman to tell you about American Bandstand sometime.


Gringo said...

I very rarely cry as a reaction to music. Once I did to a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus at Park Street Church. OR seeing Stephan Grapelli perform Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You."
Louis Armstrong singing and playing "Lucky Star" might do it.

Regarding different reactions, I am reminded of the time one of my high school classes went down to NYC to see "Man of La Mancha" being performed. One cynic laughed throughout the movie. Whatever. An apparently idealistic classmate sitting next to the cynic said he was very annoyed at the cynic laughing throughout the movie. What I found amusing about this classmate's being so pissed off at laughing at the play was that he walked around with a perpetual sneer. If one had placed bets before the play on who would have ended up laughing at the play, most of us would have put our money on the apparently idealistic classmate who detested the laughing. Go figure.

His point of view was apparently that sneering at something was good- as long as he was the one doing the sneering.

Douglas2 said...

Another piece that is inappropriate for a wedding is the Bridal Chorus (Treulich geführt) from the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner.

An excerpt from a longer piece of music where suspicion wrecks the marriage, and the bride dies from her grief.

Jan said...

Sentimental bordering on maudlin is
Louis Armstrong singing "Oh What a Wonderful World." And yet it tears me up. Every. Single. Time. (Especially if it's accompanied by a video of cute animals and babies.) I'm considered pretty callous most of the time.

And I agree about "I'll Be Watching You." Even Sting says he can't understand why people use it at weddings because it's meant to be really creepy.

Gringo said...

For Man of La Mancha, that would be play, not movie.

Texan99 said...

I don't care how homoerotic it is, "YMCA" makes me want to get up and dance to this day.

I read that about Sting, too, that he couldn't fathom why people thought a song about surveillance was romantic. I guess a lot of people hear a word or two out of context and never pay that much attention to the whole song. I like that song very much, too, by the way, not for the lyrics but for the sound.