“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”
I was dismayed the other day when the TV ate my VHS copy of Donnie Darko. I’ll admit that I quoted the movie far more than was necessary in my college days. I even found the above quote in a magazine and included it in my profile collage for arts and cultures. I doubt, though, that I’d have made such a strong connection to the movie without its use of Gary Jules’s song “Mad World.”
“All around me are familiar faces, worn-out places, worn-out faces.
Bright and early for the daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere.
The tears are filling up their glasses, no expression, no expression.
Hide my head, I wanna drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow.”
The words evoke everyday-tragic images which fit neatly with the haunting melody. Everyday-tragic, you may ask? First, I’m an English teacher, so I’m allowed to make up words. Shakespeare did it. But also, what I mean is that these words are like the line from Black Guayaba’s “Ayer:” “Una lágrima suelto al suelo—un acto criminal” (a tear falls to the floor—a criminal act). Small, meaningful, sorrowful occurrences lead to haunting images that reflect the tragedy that can be found in everyday life. They’re smaller, more subtle tragic images . . . but they still resonate within you. Tears coursing over expressionless, worn-out faces to fill empty glasses. People racing about their daily routines, unaware that they accomplish very little.
In Donnie Darko, the montage of characters at night is an apt pairing for this tune. Then, this summer, I saw the tune paired with another montage of characters that seemed, if possible, even more perfect. The cast of The Glee Project turned “Mad World” into a music video for their week on vulnerability. Each of the aspiring stars had to walk through a mall with a signboard listing what made him or her most vulnerable—words like “fat,” “used,” “anorexic,” “numb,” and “gay.” Even though the video was only a few minutes long, I wept when I watched it because it felt so real.
“And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad.
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take.
When people run in circles, It’s a very, very mad world.”
I’ll admit to a certain fatalism when I listen to the line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” I’ll also admit to listening to this song when those fatalistic thoughts run rampant; somehow, expressing them (because of course I have to sing) makes those thoughts easier to bear.
“Went to school and I was very nervous.
No one knew me, no one knew me.
Hello, teacher, tell me, what’s my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me.”
For the most part, I was happy in school; even if I wasn’t super-popular, I had my group of friends. Still, I felt at times like I was completely invisible. To be honest, I still do. This song allows me to explore those feelings of alienation and everyday tragedy but still come out unscathed at the end.
So, yes, I know it is a mad world, but in a strange way, this song reminds me that maybe I’m not alone.
I have a confession.
I watched seasons 2-9 of American Idol. I watch Glee, The Voice, The Sing-Off, and pretty much any other show about singing, singers, and/or performing songs. I can list a host of reasons with varying levels of acceptability—procrastination, dislike of watching sporting events, and boredom, among others—but what it boils down to is this: I miss it. I miss performing, and watching others do so helps me relive those incredible experiences.
I’ll save the raw, heartbreaking passion in “Permanent” for a later post, perhaps, because I’d like to focus on his song “Lie” from that self-titled album.
You whisper that you are getting tired
Got a look in your eye
Looks a lot like goodbye
I knew this would be the perfect break-up song. In an instant, this song still transports me to the exact moment I knew my ex would break up with me . . . or the moment, many years before that, when I broke up with my first high-school boyfriend. That *look* is timeless—and it’s captured perfectly in these simple words.
You’re hiding regret in your smile
There’s a storm in your eyes
I’ve seen coming for a while
Hang on to the past tense tonight
Don’t say a word
I’m okay with the quiet
The truth is gonna change everything
This part always reminds me of that deep-down, sinking, gut feeling I have when I know I’m about to hear bad news. I’ve often wondered if David Cook and the other songwriters could somehow hear my inner monologues. See, even when I know awful news, know it deep-down with a terrified certainty, I’ve always sought ways to postpone acknowledging it. I really am okay with the quiet . . . because in it, I am able to lie to myself.
So lie to me and tell me that it’s gonna be all right
So lie to me and tell me that we’ll make it through the night
I don’t mind if you wait before you tear me apart
Look me in the eye
And lie, lie, lie
I know that there’s no turning back
If we put too much light on this
We’ll see through all the cracks
Let’s stay in the dark one more night
This image is, in fact, a metaphor: their relationship is an item with a seemingly solid surface that reveals hidden flaws when illuminated. Again, he asks not to be forced to acknowledge these—he wants to stay in the dark. I can certainly appreciate that impulse.
Don’t want to believe in this ending
Let the cameras roll on
Tomorrow’s all wrong
If you walk away
To me, the significance of this song reaches far beyond the surface relationship implications. It lies instead in my own fear of the unknown. My past actions have proven that sometimes I’d rather stay with something known—even if I’m not happy—than try something new: a new city, a new job, a new apartment, a new way of life. The unknown feels “all wrong” to me . . . even when the known does, too.
So lie to me and tell me that we’re gonna be okay
So lie to me and tell me that we’ll make it through the day
I don’t mind if you wait before you tear me apart
To look me in the eye
And lie, lie, lie
Fittingly, I think, the music simply tapers off after this final plea. There’s no sweeping conclusion, no witty couplet that explains how the illusion can continue. The lies just can’t last forever; that’s the point. Sooner or later, the truth will look him (and me, and, in fact, all of us) in the eye. Despite the hauntingly beautiful pleas, it’s apparent that we all have to find a way to face that truth, live through the pain of it, and move on.
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (q104.radio.com)
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (fresh1027.radio.com)
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (kymx.radio.com)
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (now100fm.radio.com)
- Which American Idol Performance Was Your Favorite? (popsugar.com)
- David Cooks “Light On” Music Video – Love It or Leave It? (popsugar.com)
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (wlte.radio.com)
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (khmx.radio.com)
- Street Date: David Cook Performs LIVE, Playing Selections From New Album “This Loud Morning” (wdok.radio.com)
“Kyrie” from Lord Nelson Mass – Franz Joseph Haydn
“Daemon Irrepit Callidus” – György Orbán
For me, music attaches most strongly to memory when I perform it. I never learned to play an instrument, although I can strum a few chords on a guitar and pick out a melody on a keyboard. What I did was sing in various choirs throughout my school career. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not extraordinarily talented, nor should I audition for American Idol. Still, my experiences with music will always be colored by performance, by letting music flow not only into but also through my body.
I can clearly remember the dress rehearsal for my first high school concert. We were singing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. At the time, I sang in the women’s choir, so I was only used to hearing the soprano and alto parts along with the piano accompaniment. At the rehearsal (and in the concert), the advanced choir—complete with tenor and bass—would join us, as would four professional soloists and my school’s orchestra, who had practiced the same piece for a joint concert.
If you haven’t heard it before, you should check out the first movement—“Kyrie”—from the Lord Nelson Mass. It’s not exactly a shy, retiring melody. Rather, it’s a wall of sound that hits the audience full-force from the beginning. On the afternoon of that dress rehearsal, I was stunned by the power added by the men’s voices and orchestral accompaniment. Overwhelmed by the beauty and strength of hundreds of voices and instruments combined, I literally forgot to sing . . . until my friend elbowed me, that is. It was the first time I really felt that potent sense of belonging that comes from being part of something much, much greater than oneself.
That sense of belonging took a slightly eerie turn with György Orbán’s “Daemon Irrepit Callidus,” a quick, devilish Latin number used for the All-State tryouts my junior year. I hadn’t tried out before, so I didn’t know what to expect. We met at the high school early one Saturday morning and drove to another school for the auditions. I remember receiving a tryout number and then walking toward the school’s auditorium with my nervous gaggle of classmates. The imposingly thick, heavy wooden doors—you know the type—transmitted only muffled sound. Once heaved open, that sound expanded into the unbearably strong yet irritatingly tinny noise that can only come from accompaniment on cassette tape played too loudly (and on a continuous loop) through the auditorium’s sound system.
Hundreds of high school students, glassy-eyed with lack of sleep and practically shimmering with nervous energy, perched on the upholstered auditorium seats. They all faced the empty stage with its closed, blood-red curtains. Sheet music in hand, they sang along with the tape, practicing the tryout section over and over again while waiting for their numbers to be called. It was far too loud for conversation, so my friends and I wandered, trance-like, to the first free row of seats, sat down, pulled out our music, and began to sing along, as glassy-eyed and nervous as the others.
There, the sense of belonging was tinged with the strange, cult-like feeling I get whenever I hear (and participate in) groups of people reciting the same thing all at once. It was intense, magical, and somehow just a little bit off—exactly like the music itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I love performing. Whether I’m belting in the shower, mumbling my way through half-understood Spanish-language lyrics in my car, or singing onstage, the act helps me connect to a piece of music in a deeper way. The experience is admittedly hard to define. However, both of these intense experiences epitomize what it is, to me, to be not just a listener but, in fact, part of a song.
- Classical Music Composers (mademan.com)
- Marlboro Music Festival @ Marlboro, Vt., 7/18/10 (timesunion.com)
- How the great symphonies became our soundtrack to a changing world (guardian.co.uk)
- How did Joseph Haydn influenced music (wiki.answers.com)
- Haydn: Piano Trios Vol 1, Nos 24, 25, 26, 31 – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Beethoven’s Fifth: the Base and Peak of Romanticism (nightofzel.wordpress.com)
- J.Haydn – Cello Concerto No.1 in C major – M. Rostropovich and Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
I don’t remember why I bought the soundtrack to Teaching Mrs. Tingle; I certainly hadn’t yet seen the movie. The disc was probably on sale at Hastings and as I knew of the movie as something daring, risqué and above all, popular, I decided to purchase it. In it, I found my home.
“At Seventeen” was originally performed by Janis Ian, but the soundtrack featured a cover by Tara MacLean. I prefer the original but both women sing with a haunting, ethereal elegance. It’s the lyrics, though, that held—and still hold—me under their spell.
“I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired”
This became my anthem. I can still see myself, literally at seventeen, ripped from the relative comfort of my hometown (where, if not exactly universally loved by the boys in my class, I was at least universally known as “that smart girl”) and placed into an overcrowded dorm hall teeming with the impossibly beautiful. To me, they seemed unapproachably perfect, leaders of lives I could only dream. It’s no accident that my Meyers-Briggs score shifted from extrovert to introvert during that first year of college. Faced with other women who appeared so much more confident, happy and special than I, I retreated into my shell. While my roommate partied, I hunched over textbooks and listened to this song on repeat.
“The valentines I never knew
The Friday-night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth”
The rhetorician in me appreciates the antimetabole in lines 1 and 8. It’s a subtler form of repetition than I encounter in current songs (Justin Bieber’s sixty-four—yes, I counted, and you would too if you had to listen to it twice while chaperoning an eighth-grade dance—repetitions of the word “baby” come to mind).
“And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say come dance with me
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems
It’s easy to look back with nostalgia, isn’t it? Sometimes I long for those days, at seventeen, when the world was wide open, its realities undiscovered, a place where “vague obscenities” were all I knew to imagine because my reality was wholly innocent. This song reminds me that time has dulled the edges of my teenage angst as it has swept away the all-too-real pain, leaving only fond memories behind.
“To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly-duckling girls like me”
No one in my generation had to experience the first pain. After all, we were required to bring valentines to every member of the class. Remember trying to choose the non-sappy pre-printed messages for the people you simply didn’t know? I do. Besides, I’d have been absolutely grateful if my name hadn’t been called during a basketball game. Still, “The world was younger than today” because I was younger, unacquainted with the paralyzing complexities of life.
“We all play the game
When we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
They call and say
Come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
Isn’t that a powerful image? Cheating oneself at a game of solitaire. How utterly fruitless. You still lose, don’t you? But it’s the line “Repenting other lives unknown” that speaks to me now. Countless times, I’ve frantically reviewed every event in my life to try to pinpoint that one moment, that one decision that would have changed everything. Maybe, if I’d done it differently, I’d have become a completely different person—thinner, perhaps; happier; deserving of (and possessing) love . . .
In a little over four months, I’ll be twenty-seven. And ten years later, I’ll admit that this song still speaks to me. After all, I am single, and not exactly by choice. I miss myself at seventeen—the innocence, the earnest desire to help others, the hunger for new experiences. To me, this song is about embracing that time in my life . . . and, perhaps, leaving it behind.
- Our Adventure: Janis Ian, Great Camp Sagamore, and Outrunning Hurricane Irene in Upstate NY (musicofourheart.wordpress.com)
- Lesbian Musicians These Days: More than Just Women with Guitars (Column) (popmatters.com)
- Why Pink Floyd? Wish You Were Here (musicofourheart.wordpress.com)