Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Band in Heaven Plays My Favourite Song

I don't remember if I've ever used this space to discuss Miss Imperial's endlessly wonderful Band in Heaven project (and I'm too lazy to look back to see if I have), so if I'm repeating myself, bear with me.

Several years ago, Miss Imperial slyly asked many of her friends via email what their favourite song was, and why. Months passed, and then, voila, in each of our mailboxes appeared a lovingly compiled and packaged CD containing all of the songs, and a booklet with our explanations as to why, say, "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen (my pick) was the best song in the world, ever. And the CD was called The Band in Heaven.

And every year since, a new email has appeared soliciting picks for such themes as favourite dance song ("A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays," by De La Soul, since you're asking), favourite road song (don't remember), favourite discovery of the previous 5 years (The Constantines), etc. The first year, everyone's response had the air of candidness, but now the cat's out of the bag, so what you say about your pick is as important as the song you choose. You know that whatever response you give, your answer will be boiled down to its essence by Miss I and printed in the CD booklet for all to see. So, pressure, right?

Cut to this year, and the theme of sad songs, weepers, music for blue moods, etc. It took me a while to come up with the song, but once I did and it came time to write up the snappy reasons why, I got rather carried away with myself.

Reprinted below is my long-winded response, edited for legibility for those who haven't known me forever (or at all). The underlined text represents the portion Her Eminence, the Compiler chose as best expressing what the hell I meant:

It's a crowded field, because after all, sad songs say so much. But it has to be the poet laureate of sad, Leonard Cohen. "Famous Blue Raincoat" is about sizing up the detritus after the detonation of a three-way love affair, and the pain of losing both a lover and the friend who formed the third side of the triangle. It's not the specific situation that hits home necessarily, but the evocation of the painful knowledge that a part of your life has passed, and nothing on this Earth will bring it back again. The days and the people are gone.

To contextualize, one of the things I love about my wife's family is their sense of casual possession when it comes to their musical heroes. At family gatherings there's almost always a guitar or two, and eventually they come out and people start calling out songs. They call Cohen simply Leonard, as in "How about some Leonard?" That they do similar for Stan Rogers only makes me feel more giddy for the Canadian-ness of it all. Anyway, I suspect that it was out of these gatherings that my wife in large part developed her fondness for Cohen's songs, and it was those memories she was drawing on when she began using 'Famous Blue Raincoat' as a lullaby for our daughter, which worked beautifully, since the meter is so relaxing, even if the lyrics are paralyzingly depressing. So my relationship to this undeniably sad song is a complex one, for those are surely happy memories, of an infant baby held close in her mother's arms in the darkened bedroom of our house in the country.

But give me any shred of happiness and I'll surely find the sad side of it, for childhood is brief, and already I miss my infant daughter (she’s 2 going on 20 now), and every blissful moment I spend with her now also brings closer the knowledge of impending pain, because one day she will leave us, and that day is coming fast.

As for Leonard, I love the man as much as his effect on the people around me. Making kids depressed is surely like shooting fish in a barrel, but Cohen's particular brand of beautiful loserdom appeals absolutely to the adolescent psyche, and that's what friends and I would celebrate when we would sit in the dark saying nothing, listening to
The Best of Leonard Cohen. I remember several instances of this, maybe the most vivid being at Amy's house. It might have been hours that we sat there around an increasingly darkened kitchen table, remaining completely silent, listening.

I have also caught my mother expressing affection for Leonard and his work; my mother, who would be the last person I would ever expect to feel anything for Cohen. This rigid Presbyterian girl from smalltown
Nova Scotia and the dark and mysterious -- and frank in his sexuality -- Montreal Jew poet. When I caught the scent of this incongruous interest of my mother's, I was immensely comforted, because it hinted at a whole gray-tinted underside of her I did not know.

Anyway, good luck finding your brief one sentence sound bite in this overlong note. It's your fault, of course -- you asked.

And to think, I nearly chose "Atlantic City" again.

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