‘He’s very emotional, isn’t he?’ I try to look surprised ~ and fail. I say ‘Oh, is he?’, but my mouth is locked into a polite smile and my voice sounds like Scoobydoo! I should explain that my five year old son ~ a very happy, at ease with himself, and sociable little boy ~ is prone to get carried away with his emotions. Sometimes they erupt and he is uncontrollably tearful. These episodes pass and eventually he cheers up and returns to normal; and perhaps he will grow out of it, but maybe he won’t, I never did...
It’s true. I ~ his father and many years his senior (obviously) ~ am an emotional male, not that you would guess this by looking at me. I don’t carry around an industrial size box of Kleenex or anything, but I am still emotional. What have I got to be emotional about? Well, nothing more than the next person, really, it just seems that they are more able to take it in their stride than I am. Music, films, poetry, novels, speeches, news-bulletins, photographs, in fact almost anything acts as a trigger for me to lose control. This doesn’t happen in public as I take care to avoid too many of the known causes of this effect if I’m in front of other people, but it does happen when on my own and... well, let’s just say my wife could hold a symposium on this topic.
The title of my blog is a pun on the title of a Joni Mitchell song and her music is a major trigger for my emotional episodes. I had all Joni Mitchell’s albums on vinyl (and yes, I did buy them all again on CD), but I can’t listen to any of them! The emotional effect on me is so great that I just start to sob as soon as she gets a line or two into any song. I once heard an interview with Joni in which she said that when they meet her, a lot of people just burst into tears and she has to pat them on the back and move on... Her music is wonderful, and to me, very emotional. A few years back she was interviewed by a Sunday newspaper here in the UK about the reunion with her daughter, her child that had been adopted (as the story is told on ‘Little Green’ on the album Blue). My wife showed me the article and I could not read it for the tears welling up in my eyes, not to mention the lump in my throat. I made several attempts over the next week or so to read the interview, but never got past the first paragraph ~ eventually it was recycled and I was able to talk about it. All her albums are difficult for me but the most tear-jerking is For the Roses, in particular the track ‘Lessons in Survival’ ~ go and try it for yourself.
Joni Mitchell is not the only musical tear sponsor for me. There are others, including much of Leonard Cohen’s work, Emmy-Lou Harris, a fair slice of Paul Simon and a deal of the lamented Laura Nyro. I also have to mention all songs by Jimmy Webb. The song ‘Galveston’ is about the Spanish-American War, but it was released by Glen Campbell during the Vietnam War (Jimmy Webb being so subtle and clever a song writer that the connection is never made apart from in the mind of the listener). I am fine with the song; I love it, until the line comes up;
‘Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she's crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston’
That’s it ~ I have fallen off the cliff and am now swimming in a sea of emotional fall out. This happens every time ~ it never fails!
Films are a problem when viewed in public; thank heavens that the lights go down in the cinema. I have a long history of emotional breakdown through Oliver Stone movies; I wept at ‘Platoon’, I sobbed through ‘Born on the 4th of July’ and I have only managed to see the first hour of ‘JFK’ through a tear-soaked tissue. I even cry at the last fifteen minuets of ‘Nixon’ (easily his best movie to date) ~ strange though, I have managed to view the whole of ‘W’ with no stronger emotion than mild nausea.
You may by now have developed a theory about my inability to maintain a stiff upper lip ~ you may think that it is merely nostalgia for past times or regrets over my lost youth ~ well, not so! I can listen to vast amounts of music from any part of my long, music-loving life and most things do not have this effect. I have worked out long ago what it is in a song which puts me in such emotional turmoil... it is honesty. Someone of the immense song writing and performing talent of Joni Mitchell fills her albums with slices of pure undiluted honesty ~ and that makes me cry. A review of Blue In the UK magazine ‘Uncut’ says; “And then it’s over, this painful 36 minute confession, this open house with Joni's diaries from 1969 - 1970. Such honesty makes this an album to treasure. It's difficult listening. Like all her work is. But it's that rare thing, an album that speaks to you the way only a lover can.” If that isn’t enough to make you cry then what is? And from ‘Sound Stage’ ‘...through BLUE, the emotions and honesty of Mitchell the singer, the writer and the musician are indelibly written on the soul of anyone who listens with an open heart.’
Before we go, and having explained my condition, I need to touch on the idea of honesty and confession myself. Why write a blog unless you are going to be honest with your readers? Six years ago my parents died, first my father, and then within 24 hours, my mother too. I confess that I have not shed one tear from that day to this about these events. What does that say about me ~ a man who will cry at a song or a poem, but cannot cry for the death of his parents? Am I like some character from an Albert Camus novel? I had problems with my parents and one day I just might write about them ~ who knows. I am reminded of those Nazi concentration camp guards who lived to deliver pain, inhumanity and death to the inmates of their camps, but were reduced to tears as the camp chamber orchestra players entertained them with a little Schubert in the evenings. Emotion is strange ~ like anything that comes from so deep inside you it cannot be explained ~ perhaps someone should write a song about it.
(c) Ray Lovegrove 2012
Uncut review Blue;
SoundStage review Blue;
Galveston (Glenn Campbell);
More about Oliver Stone;
What's Hay Quaker up to this week
A hard frost all week has kept me off the land.