Friday, December 02, 2005

Sad stuff

I experienced a moment of pure transcendent bliss during last spring's MerleFest: the voice, the lyric, the instrumentation, the melody, every element each and of itself was so sublimely gorgeous that I wished I'd caught the name of the song so that I could find the album that contained it and listen to it non-stop for weeks on end.The fact that I couldn't, unless I systematically bought every album by the group, which I couldn't afford to do, refined and intensified the moment that much more.

Then my friend turned to me and said, "This is the kind of song that makes me want to slit. my. wrists." She made me listen to a Barry Manilow – Bette Midler album as antidote when we went back to her house.

Same thing happens when it comes to literature. Someone will find a work depressing while I'm quietly exulting in how the author managed to look dead on at despair and take its measure. Take that, darkness! Whether the work itself ends happily is largely irrelevant to me, but seems to be the utmost importance for those who are wired differently.

Or are they? My friend and I come from families oh so similar—suicides and depressives and eccentrics we can't quite explain. Does it all boil down to what we were exposed to growing up, she in town listening to musicals and show tunes, me out in the county listening to bluegrass hour on the radio and Johnny Cash prison albums? Is it just a matter of taste? But we both read Trixie Belden. We both played the same instrument in high school band and liked the same strange boy and grew up to have kids the same age. We both like Edith Wharton.

Once I belonged to a book club that really aspired to be nothing more than a coffee klatch. After one terribly exasperating session, in which it was revealed that no one liked the novel I'd chosen, it was just too depressing for words, I was tapped on the shoulder as we were leaving by the retired professor of the group, who told me I was much tougher than the other members and could withstand what they could not. But my mother always told me I was much too sensitive! I wasn't tough at all! And all we were reading was Anne Tyler, anyway.

MFS linked to an article last weekend that questioned whether literature always had to have an unhappy ending. The article mentioned a compilation of literary fiction deemed Positive. I was gratified to find the book that will top my list of revealing books (yeah, I'm still working on it), Clyde Edgerton's Raney, on that list. Whew. I'm obviously not all doom and gloom then.

Which means I'm not going to worry about what I cannot explain: I like things that others do not. I'm going to go to the Robbie Fulks concert tonight and when he sings "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)," I'm going to belt it out along with him.

Lyrics excluded, it's such a happy song.

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