Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lonely Hunger Pains :: A look at Howard Jones' "No One Is To Blame"

As children we are devastated when we hear the word no.  As adults, we are far less likely to hold our breath in the middle of the toy department of a store; certainly less likely to throw a visible tantrum, we still grit our teeth and abandon logic when stuck in gridlocked traffic - we resist the notion that we can't move when we want to, that anything might prevent us from having what we want... when we want it. 

There has, for most of us, always been some dreadful finality to the word no.  It is an implosive word.  It is a definitive word.  It is a word that irrevocably shuts a door, bars entry and pushes us back to a new starting point.

Howard Jones captured the essence of this angst in his 1986 hit "No One Is To Blame".   Jones uses distinct and well-place metaphors to describe the frustration, fury and downright sadness that comes with an impossible relationship. 

Notice that no blame is assessed, (hence the chorus and title), no particular reason is given.  Some hurtful words, a misplaced action or overzealous re-action may contribute to the hopeless situation.  Whatever the circumstance, the echos of a slamming door become all too pervasive in the landscape of failed relationships.

Jones doesn't waste time setting the mood and bringing us into his world.  The first chorus plunges us immediately into the tense and precarious footing of those who are in an impossible situation:

You can look at the menu but you just can't eat
You can feel the cushions but you can't have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool but you can't have a swim
You can feel the punishment but you can't commit the sin

We are treated to the immediate helpless sensation of careening headlong into a glass wall.  We can see our destination as clearly as one might see a highway exit in the distance while sitting in deadlocked traffic.  We see the answer but not the question. 

Jones pushes further into the destitute mural with the chorus:

And you want her, and she wants you
We want everyone
And you want her, and she wants you
No one, no one, no one ever is to blame

It seems that, though no one is at fault, the impossible cannot be made possible.  The situation is hopeless - there is no way to make it work.

I can sense your head nodding.  Yes, you've been there - beyond the pitiful cries of  "we can make it work" there simply is no way to mold the situation into a satisfactory outcome.  It is, at that awful moment of realization, over.

Over.  Finished.  Ended.

There's that word again:  No.

Tragically, the word no is a complete sentence...

The second verse, like the first, is laced with metaphor.  We are gently nudged from hopeless to desperate:

You can build a mansion but you just can't live in
You're the fastest runner but you're not allowed to win
Some break the rules and live to count the cost
The insecurity is the thing that won't get lost

We continue to see that argument is fruitless.  Logic becomes folly.  Though "Some break the rules and live to count the cost", we are not one of those lucky few who push our way into fulfilling our own wants and needs to escape unscathed.  For we, the audience, "The insecurity is the thing that won't get lost", that is, our attempts to get what we want at any cost only leaves us with a gnawing and looming insecurity.

How many times, in the throws of a failed relationship, have cries of "Why?" gone unanswered?  We stare into nothingness and try unsuccessfully to find an answer that doesn't exist.

The final verse wraps up the desperate, pain-laced pleas of the lovelorn:

You can see the summit but you can't reach it
It's the last piece of the puzzle but you just can't make it fit
Doctor says you're cured but you still feel the pain
Aspirations in the clouds but you
r hopes go down the drain

Analogies continue to flow - an outstanding description of the frantic, dark void of loneliness.  Jones continues to present us with an examination of things seen but denied - of things just out of reach - of things that, no matter how much we may want them, we cannot have.  He finishes the final verse with a significant, definitive line describing an abandonment of all hope, despite high aspirations for happiness.

The chorus is repeated to end the song, perhaps to remind us that, no matter how we might like to point fingers and lay blame, there simply is no culprit.  Sometimes the answer is simply no.  No reasoning.  Not because it's the best thing.  The world isn't conspiring against us. 

Just No.

How many adults, most of us among them, have a hard time with an impossible situation?  I count myself among them.  I fulminate against the machinations that conspire against my getting what I want.  I throw the adult tantrum of silence and despondency.  I waste my most valued commodity, i.e. time, with acrimony.  Only through the lens of days, weeks and months do I see that some things simply can't work - and that I am not always given the answer. 

There is always this:  more often than not things work out for no apparent reason.  Quite often the answer is yes.  Many times we are rewarded for simply being on this planet... paid for work never expected. 

In desperate times we are tempted to throw our hands in the air, screaming "Why?" into the night sky.  We seek an answer to a nonsensical enigma.  We, without forethought, waste our most precious recourse; our time.  Time may not 'heal all wounds', but it does give us a perspective on outcomes.  Time, our only ally against the impossible, is the lifeline, the opportunity to do the one thing we can do...


If you find yourself staring into a hall of mirrors marked senselessly with the word no, take a moment and breathe.  If you can do that, you'll know you're alive.  Being alive means you still have the mechanism of time - the prospect of the future.

Smile... the future is always bright.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Heart's Gasp

There's that moment - you know the one - when things seem to fall into place.  That moment when your ideas, beliefs about and dependencies on the feelings of another person fall into your lap as nothing more than empty words and silent tears.  The time spent in bliss turns to painful memory.  That moment when things are unbearably clear and you're left with the unfulfilled promise of eternal love.  Your mind races with the urgency of panic-stricken grasps at straws that no longer exist.  The tossing and turnings of that sleepless night when things finally start to make sense.

You've been duped.  You've been used to increase the ego of another.  Easily forgotten and discarded.

You feel like nothing... no matter the bank balance... no matter the time and emotional energy invested.  The words are empty.  You may have found an old note to someone allowing for the same words whispered to you in an intimate setting.  Perhaps you've been granted the unfortunate privilege of seeing an email not meant for your eyes.  You try to breathe but can't seem to inhale.

You. Feel. Powerless.

Living yet dead, you walk, numb, through your day, doing your best to find a way to cope.

You're nodding... yes, you've been there too, yes?  Rest easy... you're in good company.  We all have.

The Cutting Crew released a song in 1986 written by it's front man Nick Van Eede titled "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" outlining this very phenomenon.  His unique turn of phrase did a masterful job of utilizing word, phrase and music to bring us to this place in a shared experience.

Oh I, I just died in your arms tonight
It must have been something you said
I just died in your arms tonight (Chorus)
A skillful job of setting the stage - Eede opens the song by slowly punctuating the first two words of the song in a loud whisper.  The words themselves lend their weight to the rest of the song.  Clearly, some part of the author's world has ended... and ended within what he thought was a loving embrace.
 I keep looking for something I can't get
Broken hearts lie all around me
And I don't see an easy way to get out of this
Her diary it sits on the bedside table
The curtains are closed, the cats in the cradle
Who would've thought that a boy like me could come to this (V1, L1-6)
What keeps us from finding the things we can't get?  For that matter, what is it we're actually looking for?  The answer here is painfully obvious.  Love in the midst of a battlefield strewn with broken hearts and broken lives.  Our author, in the throws of tormenting pain, illustrates the scene before us.  He's found everything he thought he wanted... love, fidelity... loyalty.  It is shattered in short order by words in a diary... these words have clearly moved aside the gauzy curtain of fantasy and exposed the often embarrassing and always heartbreaking reality that so many of us have felt... what was everything to him was only a plaything to her.  His misery is compounded by the sudden destruction of his self image in the glaring light of the reality now splayed out before him.

Eedes follows quickly with the repeated chorus:

 Oh I, I just died in your arms tonight
It must've been something you said
I just died in your arms tonight
Oh I, I just died in your arms tonight
It must've been some kind of kiss
I should've walked away, I should`ve walked away (Chorus [Full])

Obviously, still holding on to the last shred of the illusion she's woven for him, he allows his emotions to swallow his soul - trying desperately to understand, to find some reason for his nose-dive into an imagined relationship, he relates it to the first kiss... and as we all do, he turns to hindsight, telling himself that he "...should have walked away." (Chorus, L6).

Is there any just cause for feeling like this?
On the surface I'm a name on a list
I try to be discreet, but then blow it again
I've lost and found, it's my final mistake
She's loving by proxy, no give and all take
'cos I've been thrilled to fantasy one too many times (V2, L1-6)

The prose takes on a somewhat frantic momentum in verse two.  Eedes does a first rate job of taking us to that place where we are sitting perfectly still, alone in a dark room while the heart races as fast as the mind... that place we all fear.  Alone with the self-depreciating thoughts of the used and forgotten.  Our imagination runs with the nightmare scenes of how well our ex must be doing while we sit in the darkness of our despair - a broken toy discarded in the attic of the heart.

The author has tried to justify what has happened... asking, as we all have, 'is there anything more I could have done?'  I see you nodding... good, you're here with us.  You've felt the desperation of the calling-and-hanging-up, begging-for-one-more-chance, questioning days and nights Eede brings us to with the phrase "I try to be discreet, but then blow it again." (V2, L3).  You've sat in tearful solitude after the painful realization that your partner has been "... loving by proxy" offering "... no give and all take." (V2, L5).  With the final line of verse 2 we realize that the author, like all of us, has been deceived by fantasy... perhaps this is the final time.  Lesson learned.  Maybe. 

We are given a glimpse into how this happened for Eede, and perhaps sadly, for ourselves as well in the final verse:

It was a long hot night
She made it easy, she made it feel right
But now it's over the moment has gone
I followed my hands not my head, I knew I was wrong (V3, L1-4)

Here is the scene of the crime: a long, sweltering summer night in what may have been an exotic location or a small hovel in a town no one has heard of.   "She" made the author feel at ease, fully open to share his deepest feelings and plans... allowing him to 'use his hands', or explore sexuality, perhaps calling it love-making to draw him in and provide for more excitement.  The author clearly outlines his mistake... he fell into the trap, following her leading... following the urgings of his hands and heart... knowing what might happen.... knowing it was wrong.

Lets take a moment and remember... remember those tear-filled nights, feeling like the world had collapsed... like there were no more options... like we weren't worth anyone's time.  Forgotten.  Discarded.  Broken.

Now, let's look at the lesson and how we can apply it.  Yes: we've all been hurt to the point of lunacy.  Yes; it's made us jaded in some ways.  Yes; it's been cause for every one of us to simply give up on the chance at love.  Before you step out of the ring, however, please read on...

There are a million reasons to stop looking for love.  There are a myriad of pitfalls and hazards to navigate within the terrain of the heart.  There is one reason, however, to continue forward:

Your soul still searches.

Whatever you tell yourself now, there is still that part of you, your hear-and-soul, that yearns for that very thing you were created to express:


Without it we are mere lemmings, trudging about our daily lives like ants pushing crumbs of bread.  Our purpose is negated without love to drive us onward.  Our soul craves it... every beat of our heart cries out for it... when we find it, we find our meaning.  

Don't allow the pain to shadow the purpose.  Learn, yes.  Remember, of course.  You will survive this, my fellow traveler... one day you will open your eyes and things will seem easier... you will feel more a part of the world.... on that day, you will see that your search is not over.... continue, my friends, to live... continue to search for your soul's counterpart... they are out there.  Find them and never let them go.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Where The Heart Is?

Can you remember the day you left home?  Was it on a plane headed to a place far away?  Maybe you left  in a car, headed to, (what seemed like then), a huge college campus?   If you really concentrate you can, I'm sure, remember everything about that day.  You're nodding and smiling... it's an important day for all of us.

Equally as important is the return trip.  Your first visit home after moving out.  The ride into your neighborhood, with the sights and sounds you grew up with, becomes an expedition into the surreal.  There's really nothing like the lump-in-the-throat wash of feelings we get when traveling through the window of time offered to us on that first trip home.  You're nodding again... smile, it gets better...

I think about this every time I hear Chris Daughtry's "Home" (4/2007, RCA).  In this prose, Daughtry has successfully weaved the fabric between the unexplored and the comfortable; between the promise of greatness and the convenience of the established.  He is, through lyrics and melody, able to place us in the reflective area between the known and the desired.  

It is said that this song is, simply, a song about the ride to his hometown after a long and lonely tour.  That might seem the case to the casual listener... however, (you knew we were going deeper, yes?), while Daughtry has said little on the muse behind the writing, his talents have always worked toward "...telling the story of love - found and lost and sometimes found again...", (Billboard, 5/2007).

Daughtry uses his skills on the guitar to gently move us, as a tour bus might, through a dark, moonless night on a deserted highway.  Anyone traveling at two in the morning along any interstate in America has seen this highway.  Desolate... devoid of companionship... lonely... it brings with it a deep sigh and a craving for coffee.  We are placed gently inside the vehicle, looking through the window into a sea of black emptiness.  Our thoughts are echoed in Daughtry's powerful voice as he chimes the first verse:

         I'm staring out into the nightTryin to hide the pain...  I'm going to the place where love, And feelin good don't ever cost a thing - And the pain you feel is a different kind of pain.  (V1, L1-5)

As author and musician join forces, we are offered a shared experience - we look into a black night, devoid of any signs of life.  We are doing in this moment what so many of us do daily... Trying to hide the pain.  The definition of this pain can be as vast as the audience.  Where we are in life, our particular time-frame or our circumstances personally or professionally certainly provide the backdrop for this pain... the simple fact is this:  we all hide pain.  It is in the statement: "Tryin to hide the pain" that Daughtry touches us.  

When we feel pain, then, it is quite natural for us to want to find a place of solace.  Daughtry outlines the next step quite articulately by delivering the answer:  "... the place where love and feelin good don't ever cost a thing."  In a word: Home.  When we come home, we expect, and are rewarded by, a place where we feel loved... where we can be ourselves and laugh, love and expect love in return and all with no expectations for recompense.

Daughtry doesn't let us off the hook easily, though.  He reminds us as he closes out the verse: "And the pain you feel is a different kind of pain."  We know there is pain everywhere, even home, where the pain may well be the simple act of having to leave it.

There exists the possibility that the author, having been away for some time, is recollecting a person.  His girlfriend, who presumably waits for him back in the small town he left to pursue his career.  Perhaps he looks out the window and onto the barren landscape while visions of the girl he left behind move across his memory.  He pictures her, much as we all would, standing and waving, kissing him goodbye.  Has she changed in the time he's been gone?  He feels a nervous chill run down his spine while a rush of excitement fills his chest.  The pain, then, could be the emptiness he feels as a result of leaving her behind.  

A single question rings in his mind: Was this all worth it?

He grins for no reason and for every reason... Daughtry enlightens us as to the nature of his mood:

I'm goin' home, back to the place where I belong, where your love has always been enough for me. (Chorus, L1-3)

The author - anxious, nervous and almost laughing with excitement proclaims his destination, though he knows we already know.  It's a familiar place... with familiar faces... and his love.  They all wait somewhere out there in a place where he feels a sense of what we all strive for... belonging.  He yearns to be caught up in the love he remembers, and to show those who doubted him that dreams do come true:

I'm not running from - No, I think you got me all wrong, I don't regret this life I chose for me...But these places and these faces are getting old... So I'm going home;  Well, I'm going home (Chorus, L4-9)
We see that at some point before leaving home the author took, as many of us have, some ridicule.  Perhaps there were those in his neighborhood who were, in their own way, looking out for his "best interests" by accusing him of running from the opportunities for work there while chasing a dream.  He was undaunted and pursued his career with eagerness.  

His hard work evidently paid off, he comes home, in his own mind at least, a conqueror.  He has no regrets.  He doesn't look back.  He does, however, indicate that it has left him weary and wanting the comforts and security that only home can provide.

Thoughts of the past flood over him.  As with most of us, the good memories remain while the bad ones fade away.  He wonders if his girl will still feel the same, or if  she's moved on.  It's evident, as we will see, that he has communicated with her.  Will the people at home feel differently in light of his success?  Will he see them differently?  He can hardly wait to find out.  We see his anxious plea rings out in the second verse:

The miles are getting longer it seems, The closer I get to you... I've not always been the best man or friend for you, But your love remains true - And I don't know why; You always seem to give me another try (V2, L1-6)

As with all anxiously-awaited destinations, the question: "Are we there yet" gets asked subconsciously again and again.  It never fails, does it?  The road before us seems to stretch longer and the speed reduces exponentially as we draw nearer.

The author is open, at least with himself, about his shortcomings with his girl, his family and his town.  He still feels the love, even at this distance, radiating out - touching him - filling him - completing him in a way the strangers he encountered 'out there' never could; at home, he realizes, are second chances.

He reminds us again, through the chorus, how excited he is to be going home.

As Daughtry thinks back over his time away, he is reminded of the hardships he faced after leaving, and the pitfalls of success:

 Be careful what you wish for, 'Cause you just might get it all, You just might get it all - And then some you don't want - Be careful what you wish for, 'Cause you just might get it all - You just might get it all, yeah (Bridge, L1-7)
We all hear now, in the back of our minds, the warnings loved ones gave us when we would dare to 'dream big'; Be careful what you wish for!  The author is reminded of the warning, and he can attest to the real hardship of 'getting it all' and then some you don't want.  Success has many rewards, he reminds us, and many difficulties.  The choices he made were his, and he's had to accept the good with the bad, as it were, that came with those choices.

Daughtry sends us on our way with one final, heartfelt chorus as we silently watch his bus continue toward it's mythical destination.  We are reminded of that 'first trip' back home.  We are given the opportunity to revisit our own choices in our quest for success.  Our choices were our own, as is our successes and failures.

We are reminded that our journey continues forward.  Whether we've achieved success in one or several areas, we continue forward, always looking to the horizon - always looking ahead.  The things that define us, we see, are not the successes, however.  The things that define us are the very things we were afraid of when leaving 'home'...

The stumbles...
The traps...
The blunders...
The failures...

These are the things that have shaped and molded us, forming the people we are today - the strong, capable, adaptable people who surge forward every day in search of something better... in search of our dreams.  We continue without regret, always searching for the brass ring, the mark of success, the next rung in the ladder of our lives... we find the strength to move forward because we know, beyond a doubt, that when circumstances become overwhelming, we can always visit home.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Bargaining Table: MB 20's "If You're Gone"

I was getting cleaned up, preparing myself to meet the challenges of the day, listening to the random shuffling of songs on my phone.  An easy pattern, yes?  We all do it in some fashion - our templates are pretty much all the same, we separate ourselves with minute details, but we all relate to each other's morning preparations.  So, you can imagine mine then, when it was suddenly interrupted by a song....

Well, I'm a little different in my routine... it will stop for a song.  Not just any song, mind you, but a song that did what music is supposed to do.

The song evoked a response...

I stood there with my eyes transfixed and my ears completely tuned to the music.  Each word of prose spoke its own lesson.  Each note played counterpoint to the rush of emotions as lessons from the past crashed like waves against my soul.

I hadn't heard it in so long I suppose my mind had closed the file.  My Jawbone speaker pushed a smooth, heart-ache inducing song from 1998 into the air that I recognized easily as Matchbox 20's "If You're Gone".  I listened intently, my lips moving slightly as my mind ticked through memories to find the verse.  The wellspring of emotions opened up and flooded my soul with the shared experience proffered by the artist.

Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas wrote If You're Gone after meeting his future wife:

 "We were separated for a few weeks and were on the phone all the time, and I was thinking, 'I met this wonderful person,' and I wondered if everything I was going through [with Matchbox Twenty's success] was going to make it too crazy to build a relationship." (Billboard Magazine, April 1, 2000)

Thomas took the uncertainty of the music industry and the wonderfully chaotic times he was experiencing with the band and coupled that with the prospects of bringing a new relationship into the mix to write what would become the group's second most successful song.  This comes as no surprise.  The angst, uncertainty and hopefulness are displayed expertly in both the writing and performing of the song.

While most acknowledge that, Thomas' motives aside, the song's overall milieu' is the landscape of a rocky relationship.  At the very least, a relationship which has hit a turbulent spot.  This is a large draw for music consumers, as well as the general populace.  We define and measure ourselves largely by our capacity to recognize, experience and downright handle love.  It is, it seems, our collective destiny.

We become desperate, then, when that love, which has defined, carried, coddled and completed us is swept away.  It matters very little how the tear happens.  We become devastated.  Without purpose.  We pace in circles and talk to ourselves.  We bargain with the universe and ask friends, family - even random strangers for advice - hoping that just one of them will have the magical combination of words that will overcome our shortcomings or rewrite our wrongdoings.  The only relief that's offered is a muddled combination of cliches' which involves a mystical period of time and some measure of forgetting.

It is to this that If You're Gone speaks for most listeners.  We can relate to this angst.  We feel Thomas' pain.  We've been there.  We've been part of that conversation.  Now, Thomas asks us to relive it, not alone, but together - to share the experience with him - and hopefully become stronger as a result.

The first verse outlines very well the preliminary feeling most of us have felt when the end of a relationship is inevitable.  He, like most of us who really push ourselves to feel emotions, senses the end... feels a sense of finality in the conversation.  You're flexing your jaw muscles... you feel it, yes?  That moment comes without warning, although we recognize it immediately and without fail.  The conversation is moving back and forth, teetering somewhere between reconciliation and breakup when both voices grow quiet.  The look behind both partners eyes is a mixture of relief and terror as they gaze at each other in the deafening silence that follows.

In the stillness of that single moment in time, two hearts begin to break...

It is here, in this single moment of undefined pain, that Thomas sets the stage.  His voice drifts over the single guitar intro and wafts through the air:

I think I've already lost you.I think you're already gone.I think I'm finally scared now;You think I'm weak,I think you're wrong.  (V1, L1-5)
It is the moment described above.  The realization that it's done - the storm of confusion and pain begins to gather strength as, for the first time, we are forced to think of a future without this person who seemed moments ago to be a solid part of our plans.  As reality sets in, so does the fear, crowding out hope and leaving desperation in its wake.  Perceptions are distorted in the way water distorts light.  Thoughts race with the precision of a NASA computer and we speak in that rattled, high-pitched whisper only the heart-broken can manage.  It is at this point Thomas continues:

I think you're already leavin'.Feels like your hand is on the door.I thought this place was an empire;And now I'm relaxed, and I can't be sure. (V1, L6-9)

Another shock to the system as we realize the situation may be impossible to save.  Footfalls echo in slow motion toward a future apart.  The 'empire' created by two people is collapsing into two separate villages.  In the moment, when tempers are relaxed and cooler heads prevail, it is finally clear that this may be the end.

Finally, the anguished cry of the truly broken:

But I think you're so mean,I think we should try.I think I could need this in my life.And I think I'm scared, I think too much.I know it's wrong, it's a problem I'm dealing... (V1, L10-14)

Still, the artist looks longingly at the figure standing in the doorway - a beautiful silhouette shadowed against the brightness of the future - and cries out for another chance to make it right:

If you're gone maybe it's time to come home,There's an awful lot of breathin' room, but I can hardly move.And if you're gone, baby, you need to come home,'Cause there's a little bit of something me in everything you do. (Chorus)

The impassioned cry to stop and think.  We are privy to the scene we all work hard to avoid: the pleadings of the love-lorn.  It is here where we are prepared to throw away our pride and dignity - standing emotionally naked and vulnerable, we cry out to them to come back to the relationship.  Our soul sees a bleak future without the love created in the sharing of lives.

Our heads bow to hide the tears as the sound of a door closing echos in the stillness.  Our future is painted in black and gray as we contemplate the difficulties ahead:

I bet you're hard to get over... I bet the room just won't shine.I bet my hands I can stay here, and I bet you need more than you mind. (V2, L1-4)
It's this point where we see the artist's realization of the road ahead.  The hardship of moving on, the bargaining with the loved-one: betting everything that it could still work, he cries out again and again for them to 'come home'.  The song closes with repetitions of the chorus.

This scene might have lasted for weeks, days or minutes.  The agony might pass quickly or may settle in for years.  The scars could be superficial or life changing wounds.

We aren't given insight as to where the couple ends up.  Ultimately, the resolution isn't the point of the prose.  The journey through this dark chasm is meant to enlighten us in our own quest for love and the relationships that define us.

The moments of finality in our lives: leaving one career for another, leaving home for the first time, beginning a new life in a new city... these junctures leave an enduring imprint on our soul.  In these crossroads of life we begin to grow and become the person we are destined to be.  Take these opportunities to grow - sadness ends - angst alleviates - we are left with endless possibilities for learning about ourselves and the world around us...

"If a man neglects education he walks lame to the end of his life."  - Plato

R. Henson

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Heart's Field of Battle

(Commissioned Work)

I woke up one beautiful morning last week with the intention of casting away any negativity.  I realized that, try as I might to be open to every emotion - to push myself to face the less-than-pleasant emotions that cascade on me, (you know the ones), take them in and learn - I still stood behind a ballast of walls and protective battlements designed to safeguard me against the fears which seem to govern us all.

At this point, I was reminded of a song I'd heard many, (many), years ago.  The artist had just left a world-famous group named The Police.  Sting, front man for the band for several years, had made the fateful decision to walk away from the fame he'd created and secured for himself with the platinum-record group and struck out on his own.  In '85 he was sitting in a studio, happy to be on his own venture, when a few people passed by without noticing him.

Please understand that this is Sting we're talking about... The Sting!  A multitude of hits.  Fancy cars to drive.  Limos when he doesn't feel like driving.  You name it.  Sting.

Yet, these young upwardly-mobile urban professionals passed him as he was walking into a music studio without so much as a double-take.  Sting was, perhaps, relieved.  He might be happy that, at least in that moment, he could breathe easy and enjoy some anonymity.  He says it only surprised him that he didn't have to rush into the studio to avoid a crowd.

That very afternoon, Sting wrote a song called Fortress Around Your Heart.  He'd been working with some chords which reminded him of a medieval song.  That is where he got the imagery for Fortress.  The idea for the music video came to him while he was recounting his anonymous moment for some friends, but you'll see that when you look the video up later, (don't pretend that you're not already making a mental note).

With that in mind, we hear Fortress Around Your Heart, with its medieval tempo and smooth-staccato beat and we can, by the title of the song, begin our meditation on its meaning...

Seems like a slam-dunk, right?  A relationship has gone bad, this much is obvious, however we could say that about 87% of the songs on the market at that time.  I listened to the song repeatedly, as I am prone to do, and I allowed the emotional impact of the song to wash over me.  I listened. I let the artist take me on the shared vision of the song, and I found that the prose spoke to a  much deeper sense than just another bad breakup.

In the opening verse, the author presents us with a bleak scene -  a walled city, besieged and battered, still defends its lands:

Under the ruins of a walled cityCrumbling towers and beams of yellow lightNo flags of truce, no cries of pity,The siege guns had been pounding all through the night. (V1, L1-4)

It becomes clear that the woman he writes about is within this walled city.  She works tirelessly, toiling perpetually to keep the ballast in place so as to protect the lands.  Sting continues the first verse:

It took a day to build this city.We walked through its streets in the afternoon. (V1, L5-6) 
So, the author, from the perspective of the man in the relationship, explains to the audience while appearing to remind his love that they had worked together to build the city.  He is, it seems, acting as we all have at one time in our lives - during what appears to be the breakup, he reminisces, reminding her of the day the walls went up.  Perhaps he is explaining his side of things and apologizing.  He also turns to the audience and narrates:

As I returned across the lands I'd knownI recognized the fields where I'd once played. (V1,L6-7)

  Here the artist pulls us in.  He gives us a chance not only to peek into the scene, but to get the entire picture of the town - to, in essence, reminisce with him about lost opportunities.  He gently but forcefully places his forearm in our path to stop us.  His eyes narrow as he looks, confused and frightened at the field:

I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I'd laid. (V1, L8-9)

We've been there, haven't we?  There we are, pleading our case, feeling ourselves gaining forward momentum...

That's when we step on a land mine... one we laid.

We have very little time for reflection on the field before the artist spins us around to look at the walls, the moat, the deep trenches adorned with battle armor and protective wire.

And if I built this fortress around your heart;Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,Then let me build a bridge,For I cannot fill the chasm,And let me set the battlements on fire.(Chorus)
We see here, in the chorus, a clear picture of the history behind the rubble-strewn wasteland of the woman's heart.  The author has, by admission, hurt her in the past.  We find this in the if line: "and if I built this fortress around your heart".  He looks into her eyes and sees the hurt.  Without hesitation the author admits he helped build the walls, helped to dig the trenches and lay the wire.

Through whatever means he hurt her, he has caused her to fortify her hearts defenses against future pain.

Future pain... those words carry with them a cold shiver.

He sees this and asks the lady's permission to set the battlements on fire.  We are reminded of numerous pleadings, (whether ours or someone we had the unpleasant opportunity to hear or watch), in the past.  The phrase; "Please give me one more chance" rings in our ears.  We cringe.  Yes, we've been there, in our adolescent fumblings with relationships; in early adulthood when we 'thought we had it all'... even later in life when we 'just can't see how it came to this.'  We can't see from our puny perspective the entire picture.  We can't see from that position that the end could be the beginning.  We can't understand how friends and family can, as encouragement, say 'it will get better in time.'

No one seems to understand the desperation...

The author lets us in on the reasoning behind some of the defenses in the second verse:

Then I went off to fight some battle,
That I'd invented inside my head.Away so long for years and years,You probably thought or even wished that I was dead.While the armies are all sleepingBeneath the tattered flag we'd made. (V2, L1-6)

We hear the author's excuse and admission.  We know that he had left, gone on a tangent, perhaps, fighting with himself over some imagined wrongdoing or perceived insult.  In my travels I've spoken with many wandering, lost souls fresh from the purgatory of breakup.  The larger percentage of the wanderers admit that the problem was 'in their own head'... or 'made up'. ..

Meanwhile, the armies recruited to safeguard the heart of the lady have a chance to rest - the fortress can be shored up - the heart gets harder with each second that passes, until it resembles an inanimate object barely capable of  sustaining emotional life.  It is protected, yes.  It is prepared to ward off pain, absolutely.

Is it happy?  Can the soul devoid of feeling ever be satiated?

The third verse lets us in on the present condition as the author sees it:

This prison has now become your home,
A sentence you seem prepared to pay. (V3, L1-2)

The author sees, sadly, the end result of his machinations during the relationship.  He has hurt her deeply and often enough that she is prepared never to love again, so long as it means no more pain.  He finishes with one more indulgence of memory before closing with the chorus:

It took a day to build this cityWe walked through its streets in the afternoon.As I returned across the lands I'd knownI recognized the fields where I'd once played.Had to stop in my tracks for fearOf walking on the mines I'd laid." (V3, L3-8)

You will recognize this passage from the first verse.  This time, however, it hints of something different...


The artist now understands the situation.  He realizes the impact of his folly.  The memory now has tears in its wake.  It sounds like a final look back.

How many of us, if we are open to the question, would say that we have, at one time or another, been in this 'last gasp' area of a relationship - the final fight... or the tearful goodbye?  You're nodding your head slowly...  it's a tough place to be.  The song really spoke to teens.  This isn't surprising, as the adolescent years are when our initial walls begin to go up.

Maybe just a foundation, a turret or two if we've been burned badly.  Later, as relationships take on a deeper tone, we begin, brick by brick, to establish the trenches, battlements and armies we need to protect our heart from that one pain we cannot fathom... the pain that reaches too deep to numb... the agony that comes from our very core and radiates outward to leave indelible marks on our entire lives.  Ask anyone which pain they'd choose: physical or emotional... if they're honest they'll choose physical every time.

So, we construct walls with the intention of protection - without fail they turn into walls of penitent, imprisoning us - locking us away from the opportunity to really feel things, to experience even the baser emotions... these walls hold us back from surrendering to the one emotion which, in my estimation, makes we, the citizens of the third planet from the sun, human... love.  

As humans, we define 'feeling good' as 'an absence of pain'.  If we rely on that empty and cold definition of joy, then we deprive ourselves of that one emotion which defines us:  Love...

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
                                                                                                              -Lao Tzu

 R. Henson

Monday, April 21, 2014

Duality of Meaning

(This is a freelanced work)

 This passed through the transom of my mind this evening - if you've got a second, (and you're not driving), read on and pontificate with me...

It occurs to me that too often we attribute to a word the most convenient meaning for us. We take the meaning that best suits us and put it in our pocket, expecting - insisting, even - that the world conform to our definition.

When we do that, we lose so much more joy and fulfillment than we gain in convenience...

"Love" is such a word. For the ' word nerds' like myself, the ideophone is intriguing in its duality. This magical, life-changing, word has an incredible power... whisper it once and you can change the lives of everyone in the room. Say it loud enough and whole civilizations will go to war to obtain it. Feel it for a single moment and you'll place everything at its altar...

One. Single. Word.

It keeps songwriters busy and essay authors in the limbo between obsession and depression. With it a frail human can fly. Without it a giant tumbles.

We should respect a word with such power. We should speak it only in reverent, whispered tones. We should remember, with all our hearts, that in speaking the phrase 'I love you' we make a solemn, fragile promise; an oath of earth-shattering proportions that, if broken, destroys the soul.

You're nodding along with me... be certain, my friend, that you give weight to your agreement. The soul will pay for the lips' flippancy where this powerful incantation is concerned. When you feel the influential statement "I love you" pushing past your teeth, take a moment to recognize what you're promising to someone's heart. They will count on your actions - with them and with everyone else in the world. To show this to them - always - seeking attention, validation and self worth from no one else; even more, to ACCEPT it from no one else. You are, on your soul, giving your oath that you will do the same.

Classify love as an emotion with no other definition and you will feel it for a very short time before sadly watching it die in your arms.

Define it as both an emotion and a verb and treat it with the respect it deserves as a wonder of magic and celestial power and you will feel it strengthen within you and the recipient...

Emotion, verb, magic...

Love is our definition...

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.     ~ Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
R. Henson

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dark Sunrise: An Interpretation of 'Let Her Cry' (Hootie and the Blowfish, 1994)

"Let Her Cry" Single CD Sleeve

April 7, 2014

I have always been a music lover.  I admire those who can express themselves in musical prose and create a shared experience of those emotions with an audience.  There are songs that bring a sense of elation when we hear them.  Some songs evoke a burning desire.  Some songs make us smile.  Some dig so deeply into our soul that the lyrics and melody play in our mind repeatedly - creating a landscape of emotion for us to explore with the lyricist and any others in the crowd sharing the emotions.  Note that as we traverse this landscape we do not go alone!  This is the point of the shared experience created by the author.  This also brings about a bond shared through the author, singer and audience.  

The other day I heard just such a song, although when the song premiered in 1994 I gave it very little attention...

Funny, that a song heard long ago meant nothing more than a good 'slow-dance' song in a club can mean a great deal more years later, yes?

Hmmmm... well, maybe not...

Time, life, people and places bring about a great many changes in one's outlook on life.  Some changes are  good - circumstances that make us laugh out loud, dance for no reason.... you get the picture.  Some experiences, as anyone over age ten knows, tear us to our very core - rip our reality out from under us - break us... any one of us could go on ad nauseum about the pain negative experiences and loss have caused us.  

The song I speak of was, as the title suggests, "Let Her Cry" by Hootie and the Blowfish.  The song was playing softly in the background while I worked.  I barely heard the introduction.  A few seconds into it and the song was playing full volume while I leaned back, staring into space.  The lyrics combined with Darius Rucker's soulful, agonized voice throughout the song and I got that invisible-but-cold, heavy, tear-jerking weight press down on my heart.  Many people shove these feelings aside or push them down; I prefer to experience everything to its fullest.  I sat back and let the emotions wash over me.  It was overwhelming, of course, as deep, life-changing, speak-to-me, can-I-get-an-amen emotions tend to be.  I quickly pulled the song up on YouTube and listened again, repeating the song several times until it found residency in my subconscious - where, for the time being, it plays over and over now.  You know the feeling, yes?

Finally, I resolved to write a small literary interpretation and research piece on the lyrics in the hopes that the paper would act as a divining rod; gently nudging me to a deeper understanding of myself... 

"Let Her Cry"  - Hootie and the Blowfish: Dark Sunrise

It must be noted that the song is a well crafted piece of pop literature, in that it employs a concept rarely used in prose songwriting and is, then, barely recognized by its audience.  The technique, reverse chronology  takes the audience through a reversed order of events.  This is indicated in the tense of each verse.  In verse   
one, we have no viable time frame - an indicator of present time, or 'now'.  Verse two starts with the time placement "This morning..." implying a time some time earlier in the present day, while verse three begins with the time statement "Last night...", giving the audience a timeline of events in reverse.  This difficult strategy is very powerful, as it first brings the audience the lack of resolution then follows with the tragic backstory of how the author arrived at this moment in his life.

Many have attributed drug or alcohol addiction to the song, and while I can see the weight behind the argument, I don't ascribe  to their theory.  A song reflecting a hopelessness so vast as to suggest leaving a loved one to cry - to cause the author to feel such depression, hopelessness and self loathing, must, of necessity, reflect a deeper meaning.

The opening verse, then, gives the listener the present-day vision or resolution, the bridge gives a picture of events leading to the outcome and the last verse shows us how the situation began.  This significant block of time, in which the author's epiphany of the situation he finds himself is quite small; approximately twenty four hours.  One full day that reveals to the author, (and then to us),  the kind of agony accumulated over vast quantities of time.  This small time period opens our eyes to the kind of painful heartache that could well take a lifetime to heal.  This brilliant piece of writing shows us the briefest of glimpses into the very center of the heart, where unrequited love, and the rejection that accompanies it, is revealed not in small portions, but as the complete meal.  It is then a strong statement on the human condition of being unable to "see the forest for the trees".

In the interest of continuity, this paper will begin with verse three and move forward.  

The author shows us a bleak, toxic, dysfunctional relationship that he is helpless to escape.  We are given very little information on the longevity of the relationship.  We know that the author is very much in love with her, that they live together, ('This morning I woke up alone... V. 2, L. 1), and that her tears affect him at a level which could be described as spiritual.  We see this in the repetition of the chorus and its first line.  The author repeats the chorus more than the generally accepted number of times, perhaps indicating something he's been repeatedly telling himself, perhaps in a failing attempt to find the strength to walk away from what may be the love of his life:

Let her cry if the tears fall down like rain.Let her sing if it eases all her pain.Let her go; let her walk right out on me.And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be. (Chorus)

We are brought into this small block of the author's life on the day after his first attempt to leave his girlfriend, ('Last night I tried to leave...' V:3 L:1).  It is plain that, when he tried to leave, she surprised him with tears.  The strong feelings of attachment clearly shocked the author, who may not have seen this level of emotion for some time, ('[She] cried so much I could not believe she was the same girl I fell in love with long ago... V3, L2-3).  While we are not privileged to the conversation, if any, that followed.  It is clear that he didn't leave, and that following the discussion she reverted back to the cold, emotionless person he'd come to dread - while perhaps simultaneously realizing that she was the one, the revelation that she may never change, and that the accompanying heartache could well last until he can let go finally overwhelms him until finally he cries out for the strength to let go:
          She went in the back to get high,
          I sat down on my couch and cried:
          'Oh mama - will you hold my hand,
          and just..."


                (V3, L4-7)

The second verse sets an equally bleak scene.  The author is surprised by her absence when he wakes up the morning after her tears dissuade him from leaving the relationship.  Not only does he wake up alone, we can only speculate that there was a facsimile of reconciliation and perhaps things looked hopeful only hours before.  He greets the day in unwelcomed solitude; greeted only by a note by the telephone:

This morning I woke up alone; Found a note standin' by the phone
          Saying maybe, maybe I'll be back some day  (V2, L1-3)

 Alone with his imagination, the author's angst and heartache festers and grows.  Panic quickly sets in as he wrestles with the decision of whether to go and look for her.  The 'where' and certainly the 'why' questions must certainly be taking a toll as he paces the same pattern any of us would, (and perhaps have), in the situation.  Still he holds on to one word: maybe.  It is true that the human condition adapts well to nearly any living condition; with one exception: letting go.  We, as a species, tend to have to work at separation... many times twice as hard as we do on any relationship.  We are consumers used to plastic bags at our favorite grocery store; bags meant for disposal or recycling, and yet how many of us have a cabinet designated for storage of these bags?  It is so difficult for the author to sit, and yet he clings, as so many of us have, to the word maybe.  Holding on to the word as a talisman, (derived from the repeat of the word), he is convinced, perhaps, that she will come back. Possibly the rejection he might face is too much to bear in light of the revelation hours ago that he does indeed love her.  

 As we read, (or listen), on, we see that in his desperation he says: "I wanted to look for you" (V2, L4).  It is obvious that he either forces himself to gather what dignity the unrequited love has left him with and refrain from looking for her, or he simply doesn't have time, as she walks through the door an undisclosed time later:

                                                 You walked in
                                                 I didn't know just what I should do.
                                                 (V2, L5-6) 

Like most people in pain, he is completely disillusioned by the turn of events, her lack of reaction to his agony and the apparent distance she has been able to effortlessly put between them.  He is devastated by the situation and, it seems, is out of answers.  He has given.  He has forgiven.  He has allowed himself to become drowned in a relationship defined by his inability to 'let her go' (chorus).  He responds, as many of us would:
                    So I sat back down and had a beer, and felt sorry for myself, saying...
(V2, L7)

The reverse-chronological order affords us a unique look into the author's toxic relationship.  We're introduced to the depth of love and devotion the author has for this woman and her lack of anything but superficial emotional connection to him.  He brings us into this portion of his life with a glimpse of the pain as he has, it appears, found her after some searching the very same evening - approximately twenty four hours after he tried to leave, sitting under a street lamp, ('She sits alone by a lamp post...' V1, L1).  Her mental condition is compromised by too much alcohol, as she is "Trying to find a thought that has escaped her mind." (V1, L2) 

As he walks up, happy that he's found her,  hoping to be greeted in a loving and affectionate manner she greets him indifferently and intoxicated.

                                   She says; 'Dad's the one I love the most,                                                                    But Stipe's not far behind. (V1, L4-6)

According to Darius Rucker (author and performer), 'Stipe' refers John Michael Stipe, lead singer for the alternative rock group R.E.M.  He has agreed, largely due to her tears, to stay with her even though she obviously makes him feel unloved and used... he comes to pick her up after a night of drinking... we can safely assume he is smiling when he finds her and is ready to greet her with happiness and open arms.  She greets him by telling him who she loves most and second-most - neither of which is him.

We see in this picture that Mr. Rucker has painted for us that for some time now the author has been contending with a woman who doesn't return the love he feels and doesn't feel remorse for the pain she's causing him by blatantly ignoring his professions of love.  This would be sad enough, but the author is treated to another excruciating conversation.  He notes that 'She never lets me in..." (V1, L7), indicating that she doesn't share emotional response with him anymore.  He is obviously not the one she confides in any longer.  She has cut him off unless, as stated in verse three, he attempts to leave.  The exception seems to be on the night in question, under the lamp post, she has had too much alcohol (as indicated in the line "Tryin' to find a thought that just left her mind" (V1, L3):

                                      Only tells me where she's been
                                                When she's had too much to drink. (V1, L8-9)

So then, on this night, barely twenty four hours after he tried to leave, she 'told him where she'd been'... obviously somewhere that she normally kept from him. We are left to imagine where this might have been.  Could she have been at another lover's home?  Most likely and sadly, the indication is yes.  In her drunken state she spills the truth and it lands all over the author.  I don't think anyone, most especially the 'girlfriend', would trade places with Darius here.  He shows a remarkable strength and ability to both handle what she says and to nurture this woman who, he believes, is his One True Love. His response is to simply tell himself, (and her), that he doesn't care.  He strokes her hair and prays to God to give him the unbelievable strength it will take to leave her:

I say that I don't care,  I just run my hands through her dark hair
Then I pray to God : 'You gotta help me fly away, and just... [Chorus]  (V1. :L11-12)

The love he feels for her is so strong that the author would go out in the middle of the night to pick her up without question.  His pain is so strong that he is compelled to pray for the strength to endure his life without her. 

Another look at the chorus tells us what he needs to do - and that he is aware of the necessity of his leaving.  First, he must not allow her tears to keep him in this relationship.  Second, he must not interfere with her healing process, (she is not an animal - some small part of her will need to heal.  If singing does this, 'let her sing...'  it is imperative that once he leaves he doesn't intrude into her life again.  If she will not change, and it becomes necessary for separation, then he must not change his mind; he must 'let her go...' - let her walk out.  Finally, if the world doesn't end, ('if the sun comes up tomorrow...[Chorus]), that is, no matter what, leave her alone: no texts... no Skype... no Phone Calls... no Facebook stalking.  A tall order, but a necessary one.  As with the fifth and final stage of grief, acceptance becomes the main goal for the sufferer.  

 Let her cry, if the tears fall like rain.
 Let her sing, if it eases all her pain.
 Let her go, let her walk right out on me.
 And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be... let her be. (Chorus)

 We are never afforded the knowledge of the final outcome.  We know that she asked him to stay with her the first time he tried to leave.  We know that he did, at least for that day.  We know that Darius Rucker was married in 2001 - the song debuted in 1994... even in this small duo of facts we are taught by our author, to wit:

He got over it... 

He survived the pain...
He found a way to leave and to move on...

His wife of over ten years is not the woman portrayed in the song. (Interview, The Late Show with David Letterman, 1994).  We are given hope that even heartache this devastating can be endured, if not cured.

 The song reaches out to the audience and creates a shared emotional experience.  Both singer and listener walk together through the weary, painful and insecure twenty four hours defining pain, heartbreak and desperation.  We fully identify with the author, who finds himself, as many of us have, 'hearing' the brain, but 'listening' to the heart.  Through it all, the artist has the answer which will both set him free and bind him with the shackles of inconceivable pain.  Our own experiences allow us to identify.  Our shared experiences provide wisdom and strength.

"Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but
 this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them."

- Leo Tolstoy

R. Henson

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why a Blog for a Book?

Why does Traveler have a blog?

The answer is at once simple and complicated, (those that really know me know that I hate the word complicated - too often it's used out of context to simply give a vague, "lying without lying" answer.  Give it a second, you'll get it).

I've compiled a small list of reasons I've set up a sort of daily account of what shape the book is taking... 

  1. I get asked several times a day: When are you going to set up a blog for the book?  - Go figure.. I took the relentless asking as a compliment and here we are.
  2. Many people have become caught up in the mystery surrounding the story - I've been told that some think of questions in the middle of the night to ask me concerning the book and characters... I think this will work as a grand forum for information gathering for the readers.
  3. I can write things on the blog instead of repeating it a thousand times to a thousand different people - nuff said.

So, my plans concerning posts here are these:  

I will attempt to post a couple of times a day, (more if I'm feeling froggy).  These posts, starting with the one that will follow this one, will give some information as to plot, character development, completion and deadline dates, random thoughts about certain situations in the book and, (as the day looms closer), dates, times and location of the launch party... hey, it's NOLA... we celebrate everything!

So there's the 'why' of it... to quote General George S. Patton:

"Gentlemen, as long as we know the why of a thing, we can get the 'how' of a thing done easily... it's a simple matter of discipline."  ~ General George S. Patton